Electric vehicles and their alignment with environmental laws in India

As the entire transportation industry faces a sea change, with a clear preference for cleaner and greener vehicles, electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming the new normal. India has also pushed for electric vehicle mandates through programs such as “FAME I and FAME II (faster adoption and manufacture of hybrid and electric vehicles)”. Electric vehicle sales are expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 35% in the country through 2026. While most experts believe electric vehicles are a more environmentally friendly alternative to regular automobiles, they can have an impact on the environment depending on how they are made or loaded. However, as electric cars and trucks grow in popularity, a relevant question arises: do the electric vehicle and environmental law align?

The need for environmental protection and conservation, as well as the sustainable use of resources, is enshrined in India’s constitutional framework and international obligations, such as its “Nationally Determined Contribution Targets”. . “Part IVA of the Constitution (Section 51A – Basic Duties)” imposes on every citizen the duty to improve and safeguard the environment, as well as to have compassion for all living beings. In addition, Part IV of the Constitution (Section 48A – Guiding Principles of State Policy) states that the State shall endeavor “to improve and protect the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”.

We will analyze the impact of electric vehicles and its alignment with important legislations for the protection of the environment in India;

  1. Electric Vehicle and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Air (Pollution Prevention and Control) Act 1981 aims to enable “the preservation of air quality and the control of air pollution”. Power plants, automobiles and industries are not permitted to discharge specific materials, lead, carbon monoxide or other harmful compounds above a defined threshold, according to the Air Act ( Pollution Prevention and Control) of 1981. The Honorable Supreme Court of India in MC Mehta v. Union of India declared that the right to a healthy environment is a basic human right, which guarantees the right to clean air, guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.

In this way, the Court broadened the scope of Article 21 to encompass the fundamental right to a healthy environment and clean air. This paved the way for the introduction of unleaded petrol in Delhi, as well as the introduction of ‘Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)’. The Court has also helped form a group to not only advocate, but also seek long-term solutions to Delhi’s air quality problem.

Since 2001, successive administrations have taken various measures to reduce vehicle emissions, including switching to CNG and other cleaner fuels, incorporating an odd number plate system, and installing systems emission monitoring. Efforts are currently underway to transition to 100% electric cars (EVs) by 2030. EVs are sold by several Indian and international car manufacturers, and the infrastructure needed to charge these vehicles is also being developed. construction.

The transition to renewable energy is accelerated by the adoption of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles emit a third of the greenhouse gases that a gasoline-powered vehicle emits, even when powered by the grid, due to their remarkable energy efficiency. Due to its battery manufacturing process, the manufacture of electric vehicles is more polluting than that of thermal vehicles. However, because electric vehicles emit fewer pollutants over their lifetime, they are much less harmful to the environment than combustion engines. As a result, electric cars can be a substantial means of reducing air pollution, which is consistent with the purpose of the Air (Pollution Prevention and Control) Act 1981.

2. Batteries used in electric vehicles harmful to the environment

Although the transition to electric vehicles is encouraged, there are serious concerns about the additional environmental consequences of this transition. When an electric car is taken out of service, either due to its life cycle or for any other reason, the batteries used in the vehicle generate significant environmental pollution. The lithium-ion cells that charge most electric vehicles, like other batteries, depend on raw materials such as “cobalt, lithium and rare earths”, which have been linked to serious environmental and human rights issues.

Cobalt was particularly troublesome. Cobalt mining creates hazardous tailings and slag that can “leach into the environment”, and studies have identified significant levels of exposure to cobalt and other metals in nearby communities, including particularly in children. Smelting, which releases sulfur oxide and other harmful air pollutants, is also necessary to extract metals from their ores.

Electric vehicles store energy in large batteries, but this comes with substantial environmental costs. Indeed, these batteries are composed of rare earth elements (REE) such as “lithium, nickel, cobalt or graphite”, which are only found under the surface of the Earth and therefore depend on harmful mining procedures. . Due to the amount of water required to manufacture batteries, electric vehicles use approximately 50% more water than standard internal combustion engines. Additionally, rare earth deposits, which are mostly found in China, frequently contain radioactive elements that can produce radioactive water and dust.

The Environment (Protection) Act 1986 is one of the environmental legislations which protects and strives to improve the environment. These dangers posed by the adoption of electric vehicles may run counter to certain provisions of the law. Although the technology in this area is advanced, there is still room for improvement. Therefore, these considerations should be kept in mind when implementing measures to reduce air pollution and a decision should be made after careful investigation of their long-term implications.

3. Hazardous waste generated by electric vehicles

Hazardous waste is defined as any waste that poses a threat to human health or the environment due to its physical, chemical, reactive, toxic, explosive or corrosive properties. Electric vehicles were first powered by lead acid batteries. The heart of an electric vehicle currently consists of lithium-ion batteries with additional chemical components like cobalt, graphite and nickel. What remains after the life of a battery is battery waste, which contains huge amounts of substances including “cobalt, electrolytes, lithium, manganese oxide and nickel” . India is now not sufficiently prepared for the massive amount of EV battery waste that will be generated over the next decade. The majority of our electronic waste ends up in landfills.

Additionally, we lack appropriate regulations to prohibit improper disposal of used lithium batteries. The current legislations — “The E-Waste Management and Treatment Rules, 2011, the E-Waste Management and Treatment Rules, 2016, and the E-Waste (Management) Amendment Rules, 2018” – have evolved considerably in terms of range of materials.

However, they do not have a comprehensive set of guidelines for the safe disposal of electric vehicle batteries. Accordingly, there is no mention of Li-ion batteries in any end-of-life treatment or recycling framework. This creates a dangerous situation as India could end up being a lithium waste dump not only for domestic EV waste but also for used battery imports. These batteries contain toxins that can harm both the environment and humans if not recycled or handled properly. Additionally, lithium reacts spontaneously with moisture, leading to massive explosions in landfills. Although Li-ion batteries are federally classified as non-hazardous waste and can be safely disposed of in the regular municipal waste stream, numerous studies have shown that they can pollute water. Much recycling these days is ‘informal’ – it happens in less developed rural areas without sufficient controls or safeguards in place.

There is a high probability of lithium entering the water supply in these kinds of activities. Residents of highly developed areas face a similar problem when they improperly dispose of consumer devices, which are often powered by Li-ion batteries. Finally, lithium is not the only substance likely to pollute soils and groundwater. Nickel, cobalt, manganese and other metals found in electric vehicle batteries are significantly more dangerous to human life and the environment than lithium.

Final remarks

In Smt. Sudipa Nath v Union of India & Others, Tripura High Court ordered the State of Tripura to take immediate action in the public interest to implement and take essential actions under the FAME India Phase II program announced by the Union of India. The court also ordered the state of Tripura to develop a comprehensive policy on electric vehicles to achieve the goal of environmental conservation through the development of carbon-free fuel automobiles. The High Court said there was no controversy over the fact that the Indian Union is encouraging the promotion of alternative fuels to carbon-based transport systems and that electric cars benefit from many incentives, such as subsidies under electric vehicle programs for various states.

Electric automobiles are created with the vision of making them greener, more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Electric vehicles, in their current state, are already more environmentally friendly than traditional fossil-fuel automobiles throughout their lifetime, especially if powered by clean electricity.

However, when adopting an electric vehicle, its impact on the environment and its alignment with environmental laws must be taken into consideration. It must be ensured that the right of citizens to a healthy environment is not violated under any circumstances.