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How Nagpur is driving India’s green public transport mission

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-05-2017 Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

Nagpur: When Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis inaugurated India’s ‘first multi-modal electric vehicle project’ in Nagpur last week, it was the city’s latest contribution to the country’s green public transport mission.

The new project comprises 200 electric taxis and e-rickshaws which will operate on cab aggregator Ola’s platform. Also unveiled was a solar power charging station built by Ola.

In less than three years, Nagpur has introduced four modes of public transport—rickshaws, cabs, buses and Metro which run on environment-friendly sources of energy and fuel, with first three of them already operational.

At the launch of the electric taxi project, Gadkari and Fadnavis promised to move Nagpur’s entire public transport infrastructure to renewable and eco-friendly sources of energy and fuel.

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Pawan Goenka, managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, which has made 100 e-taxis that are running in Nagpur, said electric vehicle for public transport was “one of the necessary ingredients of a smart city”, Nagpur being one of them.

The e-rickshaw story in Nagpur has run parallel to that of Delhi. Delhi had 200,000 e-rickshaws in 2014, when the Delhi High Court banned e-rickshaws on grounds that they were hazardous to high-speed modes of road transport and caused accidents.

Following a political uproar in favour of the e-rickshaw operators, Gadkari, who is the MP from Nagpur, moved amendments to the Central Motor Vehicles Act which exempted e-rickshaws and e-carts from the purview of the Act. The amendments were passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2014 and later by the Rajya Sabha in March 2015, thus allowing them to ply on Delhi roads and in other states. Taking a cue, e-rickshaws (battery operated) started appearing in Nagpur and states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh without their drivers taking permits from the local Regional Transport Office (RTO).

In June 2016, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court restrained the RTO from going after e-rickshaws. “Now we charge only the registration cost upfront and it needs to be renewed every year by e-rickshaws,” Nagpur’s regional transport officer Sharad Jichkar said.

In 2014, Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) tied up with Swedish bus maker Scania to launch Nagpur’s first ethanol-run city bus. Two years later, the NMC added four more such buses. Jichkar says the RTO has registered around 200 e-rickshaws in Nagpur in the last two months alone. “But before instructions came from the Union ministry of road transport and highways that e-rickshaws have to exempted from the purview of Maharashtra Motor Vehicle Act, around 2,000 e-rickshaws were plying in the city. We have appealed them to come forward for registration now,” Jichkar said.

Nagpur-based environmental activist Kaustav Chatterjee, who runs a non-profit Green Vigil Foundation, is happy about this gradual shift to the green modes of transport but added that as manufacturers of e-vehicles and taxi aggregators scaled up the volumes, the source of energy should continue to be renewables. “It is not enough to have just a one-off solar power charging station,” Chatterjee said

Mumbai-based architect and urban transport analyst Jagdeep Desai is sceptical about the availability of non-fossil fuels. “It is a good initiative and will reduce noise and air pollution in the immediate context. But how many days of the year the solar power will be available? If we move urban transport to e-vehicles which draws its energy from coal-based power only, we will only be adding pollution,” Desai said.

Maharashtra energy minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule claims that of 365 days of the year, solar power is available in Nagpur for 327 days.

E-rickshaw maker Suresh Bajoria said the running cost of an e-rickshaw is 10 paise per km per passenger as compared to Rs2-3 in a normal autorickshaw.

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