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India Could Soon Domestically Produce Cells for Electric Vehicles, Cut Import Dependence: Niti Aayog's Rajiv Kumar

Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar. (PTI/File)

Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar. (PTI/File)

In an exclusive interview, Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar said the Narendra Modi government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat push is not protectionism and doesn’t contradict free trade agreements.

India will soon be able to reduce import dependence with respect to cells for electric vehicles, Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar has said, adding that research and development in the sphere of advanced chemistry cell technology and successful transition to green hydrogen will make it easier and faster.

In an exclusive interview to News18.com, Rajiv Kumar said the production linked incentive (PLI) scheme for manufacturing advance chemistry cell in the country has received tremendous response and will pave the way for domestic production of cells in India. The scheme was approved by the Union Cabinet in May this year.

Kumar said this in response to a question on India’s import dependence on China for raw materials needed to produce battery cells, even as India looks at transition to electric vehicles in about a decade.

“Hence the PLI scheme for manufacturing of advance chemistry cell in the country. It has got a tremendous response and this will mark the beginning of the production of cells within India,” he said.

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As per a government statement, the total outlay of the scheme is Rs 18,100 crore for five years and it envisages establishing a competitive advance chemistry cell battery manufacturing set-up in the country (50 Giga Watt Hour or GWh). The scheme also covers 5 GWh of niche advance chemistry cell technologies.

“We have realised that with the launch of the PLI scheme, as the demand for battery storage goes up, domestic production will become available and therefore, India will have much lower dependence on imports than what was there in the past,” he said.

Kumar further explained that while lithium (a component of advanced cell chemistry) can come out of recycling and a few Indian companies are engaged in it in a big manner, Niti Aayog wants to encourage further research and development into the sphere of production of other components of the advanced cell chemistry.

Replying to a query on the road to the electric vehicle ecosystem, Kumar said the next phase of this transition will be to introduce green hydrogen and use it for transport in India.

“I’m glad to say that the NTPC has developed its in-house green hydrogen-based energy storage project and is likely to start its buses on this very soon; so will the Tatas,” he said, adding that this sphere is being looked at “very seriously” by the government.

He said the ecosystem for green hydrogen will evolve, both on the supply and demand side. “We can’t forecast how soon this will happen, but the ecosystem is being put in place,” he said.

“So, import dependence can and will be reduced with more R&D in advanced cell chemistry and successful transition to green hydrogen,” he asserted.

As per a report in moneycontrol.com, state-run Khanij Bidesh India Ltd (KABIL) is working with the authorities in Argentina, Chile, Australia and Bolivia to acquire lithium and cobalt mines.

India is also working on urban mining to ensure recycled materials remain in circulation, thus reducing dependency on fresh lithium inputs.

Speaking to News18.com, Kumar also touched upon host of reforms undertaken by the Centre and driven by Niti Aayog across sectors, towards the broader goals of making India self-reliant and a $5 trillion economy.

‘Niti Aayog Brought Together Experts, Central Ministries, States on EV’

Kumar said that Niti Aayog has brought together the best experts in India to help devise the roadmap on transition to electric vehicles. Stating that the entire initiative was led by Niti Aayog, he spoke of the Global Mobility Summit that was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018.

Kumar said Niti Aayog had subsequently established the multi-disciplinary National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage, that will recommend and drive strategies for transformative mobility and phased manufacturing programs for electric vehicles, its components and batteries.

Asked about the role played by Niti Aayog in bringing the states together on this initiative — with transport being a state subject — Kumar said the government think-tank has been engaging with the states and encouraging them to come up with their own policies, while monitoring them.

“Additionally, whatever is required at the central level, for example, the design of the standards for chargers and batteries and so on… we can take up those issues with the Bureau of Indian Standards and with the central ministries involved, such as the ministries for Heavy Industries, Road, Transport & Highways, and New and Renewable Energy,” he said.

“Niti Aayog is, thus, best placed to pull such a transition along,” he said.

He emphasised that Niti Aayog’s role has been to provide new ideas on this initiative and leaving it to the states and ministries to implement them as much as possible.

He also said there is a tremendous push towards chip manufacturing in India and the current chip shortage has given an impetus to produce semiconductors in the country.

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday cleared a Rs 76,000 crore incentive scheme for semiconductors, under which the Centre plans to set up over 20 semiconductor design, components manufacturing and display fabrication in India in the next six years.

‘No Conflict Between Free Trade Agreements and Atmanirbhar Bharat’

Kumar said the central government’s push for Atmanirbhar Bharat does not have anything to do with protectionism and is not a closed economy strategy.

“Atmanirbhar Bharat is aimed at improving self-reliance, so that the country can meet its requirements without being extraordinarily dependent on anyone else,” he said. “I don’t see regional trade agreements in conflict with Atmanirbhar Bharat.”

He said that the planned Free Trade Agreement with Europe is in line with Atmanirbhar Bharat as it will help expand India’s exports, and aid employment and income generation, while ramping up the country’s GDP growth in the process.

“That’s the objective of Atmanirbhar Bharat. At the same time, we will be careful about the details of these FTAs, so that the domestic industry is not hurt,” he said.

‘Several Reforms Undertaken for $5 Trillion Economy Goal’

Talking about reforms in agriculture after the repeal of the three farm laws, Rajiv Kumar said the government’s initiative on natural farming is a critical policy intervention, which will significantly bring down costs in Indian agriculture.

“It will look at minimising the use of chemical inputs, which are imported and also harmful. It will be the next big next move in agriculture, and will help save water, improve soil content, reduce costs and increase the net income of farmers,” he said.

He added that farmers don’t need incentives, but handholding and marketing to make the transition, adding that the government will provide that.

Kumar further said the goalpost for making India a $5 trillion economy exists, even as it has been pushed back by a few years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Niti Aayog vice-chairman said the government has initiated multiple reforms in the past several months towards this direction, which includes faceless assessment of Income Tax, complete liberalisation of FDI, including in defence, modernisation of Railways and the asset monetization plan, which is separate from disinvestment, and the National Education Policy among others.

He added that Mission Karmayogi and the creation of the Capacity Building Commission are also major governance reforms undertaken by the government. He said he is hopeful that India’s GDP will grow by 10% in 2021-2022 compared to the previous pandemic year and will be sustained at 8% from the next financial year.

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first published:December 17, 2021, 08:24 IST