It was in 1989 during the Indian blockade that people in Kathmandu started thinking seriously about alternatives to fossil fuels. Then the tankers started plying again and everyone forgot about it.
Now, as petrol prices are increased yet again, the government should be giving serious thought to giving incentives to electric vehicles. No such luck. The government fears loss of revenue from the tax on petrol and diesel cars and has dragged its feet on allowing five prototype vehicles that had already arrived in Birganj customs into the country.
But one organisation devoted to electric vehicles promotion hasn't given up. Founders of the Kathmandu Electric Vehicles Association (KEVA) say alternatives to fossil fuels makes both ecological sense and economic sense.
KEVA doesn't just talk, it was behind the introduction of Safa tempos in Kathmandu in1993 with support from USAID and the Global Research Institute. That move did incalculable good to the lungs of Kathmandu residents by removing the polluting diesel tempos. There are now more than 600 Safa tempos in the Valley.
KEVA has now joined forces with Clean Energy Nepal (CEN) to lobby the government to introduce other electric vehicles like electric buses, trolley buses, electric trains and electric commercial cars. "Electric vehicles are the perfect solution to Kathmandu's growing pollution and fossil fuel problems," says Bibek Chapagain of KEVA.
As far as we can make out, the only disadvantage of current model electric vehicles is that they only run about 80km per charge, but in a city as small as Kathmandu that is more than adequate.
Says CEN's Bhusan Tuladhar: "These vehicles will only be charged at night, during off-peak electricity consumption hours and at a time when excess energy is being wasted." This means that the public and environment would benefit and there would be optimum usage of electricity.
In a bid to promote these environment and user-friendly vehicles, the company Eco-visions imported five Indian-made Reva electric cars (see box) hoping to start off the trend of EVs as private vehicles. The project looked promising, but once the cars reached Birganj they were stopped and refused entry at 10 percent tax, which is what other electric vehicles were required to pay according to the budget on 17 March 2002.
The vehicles were not allowed to come into the country and were delayed until 18 July 2002, when the new budget came into play and the EVs were subject to 130 percent tax, with a 30 percent waiver due to their electric status. This would make the electric cars more expensive than petrol ones, and was therefore not feasible. As the debate raged uselessly, the the Reva cars have rusted in Birgunj and Eco-visions has folded.
Bibek Chapagain says, "The government support for electric vehicles has only been lip service." CEN's Bhusan Tuladhar agrees: "We realise that with the state the country is in, this may not be a priority, but we should see this as a way to make the country better."
All Reva-ed up
The days of the big Ambassador or even the dinky Maruti may be over, with the latest in Indian automobiles-the Reva. Sure, it looks a little bit like something Noddy or the Jetsons may drive, and its hard to believe that the two-door hatchback is really capable of seating a family of four, but beauty is superficial-and the motives behind this car are solid gold. The Reva is the first Indian non-pollution and noiseless car, completely electric and eco-friendly. Since the first prototypes in 1996, the Bangalore-based Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) put it through extensive testing. The result is two models of a street-ready vehicle, which, on a single charge of 9 units, can run for 80km at up to 65km/hr. Charging 80 percent of the battery takes about 2.5 hours at any 15-ampere, 220 volt socket, and it is less than six hours for full charge. Without an engine, carburettor, radiator, exhaust or clutch, the Reva is easy to drive and low-maintenance and all for less than $5,000. This month, 300 units were exported to Britain. In Nepal, the government has refused to cut the vehicle tax to make the ideal car for this country affordable.