As the entire transportation industry faces a radical shift, with a clear preference for cleaner and greener vehicles, electric vehicles (EV) are becoming the new normal. India also has pushed for EV mandates through schemes like "FAME I and FAME II (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles)". EV sales are predicted to rise at a compound annual growth rate of 35% in the country until 2026. While most experts believe that electric vehicles are a more environmentally friendly alternative than regular automobiles, they can have an impact on the environment depending on how they are manufactured or charged. However, as electric automobiles and trucks gain popularity, a pertinent question arises: do the electric vehicle and environmental law align themselves?
The necessity for environmental protection and conservation, as well as the sustainable use of resources, is embodied in India's constitutional framework and international obligations, such as its "Nationally Determined Contribution Targets". The "Constitution's Part IVA (Article 51A- Fundamental Duties)" imposes a duty on every citizen to improve and safeguard the environment, as well as to have compassion for all living beings. Furthermore, Part IV of the Constitution (Article 48A-Directive Principles of State Policies) states that the state must strive to "improve and protect the environment and safeguard forests and wildlife of the country".
We’ll be analysing the impact of E vehicles and its alignment with important legislations for Environment Protection in India;
1. E-Vehicle and Greenhouse gas emissions
The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, aims to enable the “preservation of the quality of air and control of air pollution.” Power plants, automobiles, and industries are not permitted to discharge specific matter, lead, carbon monoxide, or other harmful compounds beyond a defined threshold, according to the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981. The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in the case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India stated that the right to a healthy environment is a fundamental human right, which guarantees the right to clean air, safeguarded by Article 21 of the Constitution.
In this manner, the Court broadened the ambit of Article 21 to encompass the basic right to a healthy environment and clean air. This prepared the path for the introduction of lead-free petrol in Delhi, as well as the introduction of "compressed natural gas (CNG)". The Court also aided in the formation of a group tasked with not just litigating but also seeking long-term solutions to Delhi's air quality problem.
Since 2001, successive administrations have taken a variety of steps to reduce vehicular emissions, including switching to CNG and other cleaner fuels, incorporating an Odd-Even number plate scheme and installing emission monitoring systems. Efforts are now underway to transition to 100 per cent electric cars (EVs) by 2030. EVs are being sold by several Indian and international automakers, and the infrastructure necessary for recharging these vehicles is also being built.
The transition to renewable energy is accelerated by the adoption of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles emit a third of the greenhouse gases that a gas vehicle does, even when charged with power from the grid, owing to their remarkable energy efficiency. Due to its battery-making process, the manufacturing of electric vehicles produces more pollution than combustion-engine vehicles. However, because EVs emit fewer pollutants during their lifespan, they harm the environment far less than combustion engines. As a result, electric cars may be a substantial way of reducing air pollution, which is consistent with the aim of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981.
2. Batteries used in E- Vehicles detrimental to the environment
Even though the transition to e-vehicles is being encouraged, there are considerable concerns about the additional environmental consequences of it. When an electric car is decommissioned, either owing to its life cycle or for any other reason, the batteries used in the vehicle generate significant pollution in the environment. The lithium-ion cells that charge most electric vehicles, like other batteries, depend on raw materials such as "cobalt, lithium, and rare earth elements", which have been connected to serious environmental and human rights issues.
Cobalt has been particularly troublesome. Cobalt mining creates dangerous tailings and slags that can "leach into the environment", and studies have identified significant levels of cobalt and other metals exposure in nearby communities, particularly among children. Smelting, which releases sulphur oxide and other damaging air pollutants, is also required to extract metals from their ores.
Electric vehicles store energy in large batteries but it comes with substantial environmental costs. This is because these batteries are composed of rare earth elements (REEs) such as "lithium, nickel, cobalt, or graphite", which are only found beneath the Earth's surface and hence rely on harmful mining procedures. Due to the amount of water necessary to make batteries, electric vehicles use around 50 per cent more water than standard internal combustion engines. Also, rare earth deposits, which are mostly found in China, frequently contain radioactive elements that can produce radioactive water and dust.
The Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 is one of the environmental legislation that protects and strives to improve the environment. These hazards posed by the adoption of E-vehicles may run contrary to some provisions of the Act. Although the technology in this field is advanced, there is still room for improvement. As a result, these considerations should be kept in mind while implementing measures to reduce air pollution and a decision must be made after a thorough investigation of their long-term implications.
3. The Hazardous Waste generated by E- vehicles
Hazardous waste is defined as any waste that poses a threat to human health or the environment because of its physical, chemical, reactive, poisonous, explosive, or corrosive properties. EVs were first powered by lead-acid batteries. The core of an electric vehicle is currently lithium-ion batteries with additional chemical components like cobalt, graphite, and nickel. What's left after a battery's lifespan is battery waste, which contains massive amounts of substances including "cobalt, electrolytes, lithium, manganese oxide, and nickel". India is now inadequately unprepared for the massive amount of EV battery waste that will be generated in the coming decade. The majority of our e-waste ends up in landfills.
In addition, we lack proper regulations to prohibit the improper disposal of used lithium batteries. The current legislations — "the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2016, and E-waste (Management) Amendment Rules, 2018" — have evolved significantly in terms of the range of materials.
They do not, however, have a comprehensive set of guidelines for the safe disposal of electric vehicle batteries. As a result, there is no mention of Li-ion batteries in any framework for end-of-life treatment or recycling. This creates a hazardous situation, since India might end up being a lithium waste dump for not only domestic EV waste, but also used battery imports. These batteries contain toxins that can harm both the environment and humans if they are not recycled or treated properly. Furthermore, lithium reacts spontaneously with moisture, resulting in massive landfill explosions. Even though Li-ion batteries are categorized as non-hazardous waste by the federal government and are safe to dispose of in the regular municipal waste stream, multiple studies have demonstrated that they can pollute water. A lot of recycling nowadays is "informal" – it happens in less developed, rural regions without sufficient control or safeguards in place.
There's a high likelihood that lithium will infiltrate into the water supply in these sorts of activities. People in highly developed areas face a similar problem when they inappropriately dispose of consumer devices, which are frequently powered by Li-ion batteries. Finally, lithium isn't the only substance that may pollute soil and groundwater. Nickel, cobalt, manganese, and other metals present in EV batteries are significantly more dangerous to human life and the environment than lithium.
4. Concluding Remarks
In Smt. Sudipa Nath vs. Union of India & Others, the Tripura High Court has ordered the State of Tripura to take immediate action in the public interest to implement and take essential measures under the FAME India Phase II program announced by the Union of India. The court also directed the state of Tripura to develop a comprehensive electric vehicle policy to meet the goal of environmental conservation through the development of non-carbon fuel-based automobiles. The High Court stated that there is no controversy that the Union of India encourages the promotion of alternative fuels to carbon-based transportation systems, and that electric cars are granted numerous incentives, such as subsidies under EV programmes for various States.
Electric automobiles are being created with the vision to make them greener, more eco-friendly, and long-lasting. Electric vehicles, in their current state, are already more environmentally friendly than traditional fossil fuel automobiles throughout their lives, especially if they are fuelled by clean electricity.
However, while adopting EV its impact on the environment and alignment with environmental laws must be taken into consideration. It must be ensured that citizens' right to a healthy environment is not violated under any circumstances.
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