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India doesn't need green cars: Environment minister
Wall Street Journal, 28 August '10
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Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who grabbed headlines this week by blocking Vedanta Resources' mining plans in the eastern state of Orissa in order to protect forests and tribes there, dropped another bomb.

The government's protector of all things green told a gathering of the best and brightest of India's booming auto industry that electric cars and biofuels are probably no good for India.

While the popular Toyota Prius may be roaming Indian roads by the end of the year, there probably won't be very many people that love mother earth enough to accept the high cost and inconvenience of an electric car here.

Mr. Ramesh said to hundreds of auto executives and analysts assembled at the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers annual conference that electric cars don't make sense in India even for "green" drivers. Not only are they too expensive to be practical but they also lead to more (mostly coal-generated) electricity consumption which hurts the environment as well.

"I would urge the auto sector not to treat the environment as a speed-breaker," he said. Biofuels are also not the "silver bullet" for India's pollution problems, he said, because India needs to use its cropland to grow food not fuel. In India, automobiles only contribute around 7% of the country's greenhouse gasses.

A smarter way to lower auto emissions in India would be to promote the use of more fuel-efficient diesel engines, set strict emission standards and phase out old cars, analysts said, agreeing with Mr. Ramesh.

"Biofuels require so much land and India doesn't have land. With electric cars you just are just moving the pollution to a different location," said Paul Blokland, director of auto research company Segment Y Automotive Intelligence, an automotive-consulting firm based in Goa, India. "What would be a lot better is to get rid of the older vehicles."

India has around 18 million vehicles on the road today, of which close to one third are more than 13 years old, he said. As these cars on average pollute more than 20 times more than new cars, banning them from the road (or giving their owners incentives to trade them in for new cars and trucks) could cut India's emissions in half, Mr. Blokland said.