The auto industry needs to change and modernize itself to global standards in order to become a force to reckon with, Nitin Gadkari, Union minister for road transport and highways, said. In an interview, he tried to set the context for the future of fuel, technologies and mobility in India. Gadkari said the government appreciates the fact that the auto industry continues to be the lynchpin of manufacturing and a big revenue generator for the Indian economy, but it will not compromise on pollution in the country. Therefore, auto makers must adopt newer technologies such as bio-fuels. Edited excerpts:

What is the big picture of the auto industry that you have in mind?

This is the most important industry as far as our industry is concerned and constantly, exports of automobile parts and even cars as a unit, have increased. It gives us a lot of employment and revenue but at the same time, we are also going to increase the national highway road length from 96,000km to 1.50 lakh km before the end of the March. We want to diversify the traffic. There are two important problems: One is traffic jam, which is partly because of road engineering and partly because of the number of vehicles on the road. The second problem is pollution, which is because of traffic jam. Just take the example of Delhi: Traffic coming from Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal are all going through Delhi. So, because of easterly and westerly bypass and at the same time we are doing that eight-lane road and Delhi-Meerut Expressway, 50% of pollution caused because of automobiles will reduce and there will be no traffic jam in Delhi because people from nearby states will not have to criss-cross Delhi. At the same time, pollution is a big problem and it is very sensitive. Courts are also very aggressive now. Till now, there was impression that chal sakta hai (laid-back approach). But our government has made some declaration in Paris about reducing pollution in the country. So, it is time for the country to take the appropriate decision. Now, there are two issues: one is fuel and other is manufacturing of automobiles.

Regarding the fuel, the oil minister assured me that he can invest more than 30,000 crore and he can change the refineries before April 2020. It is his responsibility to make available appropriate fuel for Euro VI. There was a doubt in the mind of people whether it will be possible or not. I assured them that it is our responsibility and you don’t bother. The most important thing now is that majority of foreign brands in the country are already exporting Euro VI-compliant vehicles. My feeling is if our industry wants to increase exports, they will have to go with the international standards of emission or else they can’t get orders in the international markets. So, this is the time for the automobile industry to change, modernize, mechanize and computerize the industry with the new research of international standards.

While the industry is in agreement about making new products BS VI-compliant from 2020, it says doing so with older products may not be possible by that period.

My feeling is that there are some practical problems but when there is something new, you should accept it. We will solve the problems step by step. I have appealed to them if you have any practical problem, then you come to me. We will try to find out the solutions. We are positive. We are helping the industry but we are not going to compromise on issues related to pollution.

What happens to the diesel as a fuel for vehicles in future?

There is a need to manufacture bio-diesel, which we are doing. We can even go for electric buses. We are using bioethanol in Nagpur. Next month, we are going to start 50 buses on ethanol with 90-95% reduction in carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Then this sewage water, which is available everywhere... we can get methane and we can get bio-CNG from that. More than 1 lakh buses can be run on that. It is import substitute, cost-effective and pollution-free. It is time for the country to adopt these innovations.

Will the execution of such steps will be easy? Use of ethanol is allowed up to 10% but even now, only 3% is available.

That is the wrong things that you people do. You never make the research of it. It is the lobby that says that. For this year for the first time, the 10% requirement of ethanol is completed. It is step by step that the production will increase. Now, you can make ethanol from cotton straw, rice straw, wheat straw, corn, sugar beet, molasses, sugarcane juices, even from municipal waste. The technologies to do those things are available. World is making bio-plastic from ethanol. So, it has already been proven in the world. This is the time that we have to accept this modern change. Take example of Brazil: 70% of cars have flex engines. They are using petrol with 22% ethanol or 100% ethanol in the same tank. There is an electronic sensor to judge that. Some companies such as Volkswagen, Ford, Toyota, Honda and Fiat are selling flex vehicles in Brazil.

Can we bring that innovation here?

Yes, we can make it here. There is no problem. Technology is available with the same company in other countries.

So, why are they not doing it here?

Because government has not taken a decision and neither they have finalized norms for that. Now, we have decided to do that. In Haldea, we use 50% bio-diesel in our railways engines. My request is for the country to accept the initiatives, which are free from pollution, related with our vision of Make in India, and cost-effective import substitute. I have already taken a lot of decisions. I want to make it clear that all notifications related to biodiesel, ethanol, bio-CNG will be issued as soon as possible.

In the long term, will a customer be allowed to buy a diesel passenger vehicle?

We already have some decisions from green tribunals. The matter is now in Supreme Court. So, it will not be appropriate for me to make comments on it. But when there is a decision from a court, in many cases, whether we like it or we may not like it, we have to obey it. But my feeling is we have to consider the problem of middle class, who have taken loan to buy a car.

We are going to form a scrap automobile policy, by which we can give relief to the industry also. I will try my level best to get this policy cleared from the cabinet. This is very important.

Are you saying India is ready for a change in mindset?

Whether we are ready to change or not is not an important question. What is important is the fact that courts are very aggressive, people are very sensitive, health problems have increased due to pollution. This is the time for the country to take the decision, we should not make any compromise on that. We have to find out different solutions to that. When there are problems, at the same time, solutions are also available. Government needs a positive, development-oriented approach and also considering the problem on grassroot-level of industry and costs. We are considering all the factors and still trying to achieve our goals to cut pollution.

How would you incentivise automakers to adopt biofuel?

If we are 100% ethanol, let me tell you, picture of Bihar and UP will change. We are importing crude oil of 8 trillion every year. Bihar, UP have capabilities to give fuel to all parts of the country.

But the companies will have to make fresh investments.

I am telling you everything is ready. In Brazil, the same companies are doing the same thing.

So, you think there are enough market incentives there for the automakers.

Absolutely. One thing is very clear—whatever problems we are facing in the economy, sales of automobiles, spare parts, exports of vehicles have always increased. As per my knowledge, the business is worth more than 250,000 crore. So, whenever you have good quality, you have good market in the world.

How will you ensure that industry gets a long-term clarity on policy even as we adopt changes so rapidly?

Our industry people are very intelligent. They understand the things, they are innovative, cost of production is very less and our vendors are developed. This has been proved by our industry only. Once upon a time, only Fiat and Ambassadors were manufactured in India. Today, we are an automobile hub. Industry has capabilities to develop. So, financial vested interests are there. It is time for the industry to change and they are mentally prepared for that.

What is your take on the odd-even scheme?

My feeling is, any experiment regarding this problem of pollution, we should try for that first, and then analyse whether it was successful or not. I will tell you one simple example. The national highway through Dhaula Kuan going to Gurgaon, it has 12 spots where there is traffic jams. If you can make some underpass, tunnels, they will solve the problem of traffic jam and reduce pollution. We have started to make a study of Delhi to find out where is the problem of traffic jams. So, we have to identify different issues. If you have read the IIT-Kanpur study, automobile is not the only one responsible for that. Road dust, power projects and farmers burn crops in Haryana and Punjab. Any big problem, you have to make a study, form policy and then take a decision for different problems. Let me tell you pollution is not only being caused from automobiles. Everyone is constantly pointing fingers on them. Is it going to solve your problems?

Is there a plan to go for similar studies for other top cities?

I have decided as a transport minister, I have started a work in Delhi. We have given out one report, the other report we will give out within a month. We have found out 726 black spots where accidents have happened on national highways and we have sanctioned 11,000 crore for to repair that all across India.

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