Electric vehicle fires must be probed, says Transport Secretary

Amid several fire cases of electric two-wheelers, Road Transport and Highways Secretary Giridhar Aramane said on Sunday that every incident would be probed and said India’s electric vehicle industry must thrive and grow beyond “our imagination”.

Aramane further said that the Ministry of Roads, Transport and Highways achieved an overall asset monetization value of around Rs 21,000 crore in FY22 under the Centre’s nationwide monetization pipeline.

“Every incident (of electric vehicles catching fire) will be reviewed,” he told PTI in an interview.

Recently, many electric vehicles have caught fire and caused deaths and serious injuries.

Asked if the series of high-profile battery fires jeopardizes India’s bid to become a leader in electric vehicles, Aramane replied that not necessarily, if manufacturers quickly establish functional safety protocols, the necessary quality control and quality assurance systems.

“India’s electric vehicle industry is bound to thrive and grow beyond our imagination,” he said.

Aramane said an expert panel that was formed to investigate the matter did not submit its report.

“All issues and the supply, design, management, operations, manufacturing of batteries and electric vehicles should be looked into,” he said, adding that appropriate recommendations will be given afterwards.

Recently, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, known for his outspoken views, said companies found to be negligent would be penalized and a recall of all defective vehicles would be ordered after the expert panel submits his report.

The government ordered an investigation last month after an e-scooter launched by operator Ola’s electric mobility arm caught fire in Pune.

The Center for Fire, Explosives and Environmental Safety had been tasked with investigating the circumstances leading to the incident and also proposing corrective measures, according to the Ministry of Road Transport.

The ministry had asked the CFEES to share the conclusions as well as its suggestions on measures to prevent such incidents.

So far, three Pure EV scooters, one Ola, two Okinawa and 20 Jitendra EVs have caught fire. To a question on asset monetization, Aramane said, “Last year (FY 2021-22) we did over Rs 15,000 crore in asset monetization, we also got around Rs 5,000 crore through to toll securitization. So overall, around Rs 20,000-21,000 crore was real revenue for the ministry through asset monetization,” he added.

In August 2021, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the Rs 6-lakh crore national monetization pipeline over four years to unlock the value of infrastructure assets across all sectors.

When asked if he was still confident of completing the projects under Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase I by 2022-23, the Transport Secretary replied: “Because we started with a year behind, instead of 2017-18, we started in 2018-19, so it will go until 2023-24.” The government’s flagship program for national highways, Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I, was originally scheduled to be completed by 2022.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had in 2017 given investment approval for Phase I of Bharatmala Pariyojana, covering a period of 5 years. Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase I includes the development of approximately 24,800 km of national road network, such as economic corridors, inter-corridor and feeder roads, efficiency improvements of national corridors, border connectivity roads and international, coastal and port connectivity roads, highways as well as 10,000 km of roads under the National Roads Development Project.

Asked about the ministry’s plan to connect 112 aspirational districts, he said these districts need development and therefore need to be connected to employment generating centers and manufacturing hubs. “Many of them will be covered by the national highways that are developing under the Bharatmala Pariyojana and our national infrastructure pipeline.”

“So by staying as well, we will try to cover the ministry’s annual action plans over the next 4-5 years,” Aramane said.

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