By Sadhavi Khosla:
Delhi, the capital of India, has now got a new name, “the Gas Chamber”. The world’s most polluted city, Delhi, has the highest level of airborne particulate matter at present.
Now, with the beginning of the New Year 2016, Delhi will wake up to a new life on its roads – thanks to the license-plate-based driving ban that will kick in starting Jan. 1!
Even though it is quite late for the Delhi government to get its hands on the pollution problem of Delhi, it has come up with an odd-even formula to curtail the rising pollution level in the city – a formula that is being appreciated by some, and being ridiculed by many.
This odd-even formula of Delhi, an emulation of Beijing’s odd-even vehicle policy, has initiated a never-ending debate, doubting the workability of the plan in the city of pollution.
Why Is ‘The Odd-Even Rule’ Quite Odd?
1. Disregarding Public and Commercial Vehicles
While the step taken by the Delhi government is an initiative worth applauding, it is difficult to understand why the step is applicable only to private vehicles. The city’s private vehicles account for just 25-30% of its pollution problem, whereas the largest contributors to the pollution menace are heavy vehicles, which are currently not in the ambit of this ban.
2. Public Infrastructure
A look at the present day metro and bus infrastructure in Delhi will reveal a picture that can best be described as ‘choking’, and with the implementation of this policy, more load will be added to this already friable metro and bus network. Imagine another 10 lakh people using the public transport system daily. That is not even 50% additional load for the already clogged Delhi Metro, which is used by over 25 lakh commuters daily.
The Delhi government needs to note that all those countries that have successfully run this formula have a world class and sophisticated public transport network in place – something that is definitely missing in Delhi!
3. Exemptions, fair enough?
The odd-even policy has some exemptions as well. From sick and disabled people to senior citizens and even single women drivers – the Delhi Government has been kind enough to keep them away from the rule.
But,the fact that women are exempted from the ban does not really solve the issue of pollution. A large majority of the ladies drive in the city, and with this new ‘reservation’ on the roads, their contribution to the pollution level of the city will remain the same. While I believe that the safety and security of women is important in the city, it is difficult to turn a blind eye towards the rising number of single women drivers in Delhi. Well, this particular exemption has also left many men fuming with rage, who are accusing the government of showing its bias towards women, once again.
What will happen in times of emergency? If someone needs to take a sick person to the hospital on days when their car is not entitled to be driven, will they have to pay a fine for the same? Besides, the city does not really have a very mature ambulance service ready yet. So, won’t the policy lead to situations wherein the lives of Delhiites could be jeopardized?
5. What about the drivers?
Many people in the city employ drivers who are paid remuneration on a monthly basis. If this proposed plan becomes permanent, then what will happen to these drivers? Will people keep their drivers idle for 3 days and pay them half a month’s salary? This formula is surely going to take its toll on personal drivers in Delhi, and would naturally lead to unemployment of this weaker section of the society.
6. Let’s buy another car!
Now this is something that many of the people living in Delhi might be planning to do! With the odd-even policy coming on-stream soon, even if Delhi CM Kejriwal, in his radio announcement, claimed would last for just 15 days, won’t it be easier for a majority of Delhiites to buy another car to make their life comfortable even when the policy gets implemented? With this step, many people will have to bear a new burden of more EMIs that will get added to their monthly expenses. The policy will, thus, lead to a lifestyle that will create a difficulty for the common people to make ends meet.
I personally don’t see a point of what will be a benefit of the policy if it will add more cars to the city that already has a vehicular population of around 3 million? If this happens, the main motive of the government to curb pollution will remain as a motive alone.
Besides this, there are many families in the city who already own two or more cars. The affluent citizens of Delhi will remain unaffected with this change, and the ones who will suffer the most will be those who belong to the middle and lower classes.
In other words, this pollution-friendly drive might turn into a failure if more cars will come on the road. Did the government think about this before recommending the formula? And what measures are being adopted to discourage people from buying a second car?
Beijing And Delhi – Are They The Same? Well, No!
Following the footsteps of India’s neighbour cum competitor, China’s capital, Beijing, the Delhi Government has announced its odd-even car policy’s implementation from January 1 onwards. But, what our government failed to understand was the fact that Beijing’s setup is poles apart from that of Delhi.
First and foremost, before commencing the policy, Beijing started strengthening its public transport infrastructure. It took over three years’ time for the Chinese capital to have an extensive subway and public bus network in place.
Now, I would like to ask Mr. Kejriwal – what all initiatives has he been taking to improve Delhi’s public transportation and to prepare the capital for this licence plate based driving ban? Perhaps, none!
In addition to having the right infrastructure, Beijing also had a sophisticated automatic surveillance system in place. The system used cameras to implement the rules, instead of leaving the task to the traffic police that is going to be the case in Delhi.
Another point of difference lies in the fact that even though Beijing’s citizens accommodated with an alternate-day driving restriction policy before the commencement of the 2008 Olympics, the policy was later withdrawn after the games got over. Presently, Beijing has a policy in which cars are banned on the roads only for one day in a week – unlike Delhi’s odd-even limits that are meant to prohibit the car owners from driving their vehicles every other day.
On top of that, Beijing and its counterparts like Singapore have a stringent car buying system that makes the registration of new cars extremely expensive for its populace. Another winning point for Beijing here. And, another area in which the world’s most polluted city lags far behind its competitor.
The Road Ahead…
Delhi’s odd-even formula, besides having its own flaws and loopholes, is something that the city really needs at present.
The Delhi Government has announced that this radical plan to curb air pollution will be tested for 15 days and will be done away with, if it does not bring the desired results. So, in my opinion, there is no harm trying it.
In fact, many corporates have come forward to support the government and their employees in making this formula successful. With facilities like car-pooling, work from home, free metro passes, location agnostic work environment, and so on, the corporate India is surely taking great steps!
This change – no matter how difficult it is to deal with – demands everyone’s willingness rather than reluctance. So, let’s be open to this new change, and let’s all find our ways of dealing with the situation – instead of losing hope because of Delhi Government’s inability in devising a well-thought-out plan to make the city pollution free!
As the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government's much talked about odd-even car policy's trial period comes to an end on Friday, debates are on about how effective the scheme really was.
The Delhi government now needs to decide whether this policy will have a second phase. On Wednesday, Delhi Transport minister Gopal Rai had said that a review meeting will decide on the second phase of the odd-even scheme.
Speaking on the fate of second phase of odd-even scheme, Rai had said that a review meeting to be chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been called on Monday.
"In the review meeting, we will review the impact of the last 15 days during odd-even car rationing scheme. On the basis of review, a final decision on the future of odd-even scheme will be taken. Apart from this, we will discuss measures to make Delhi pollution-free," Rai had said.
As the fate of the odd-even scheme hangs in the balance, here's a look at what the scheme was, how its implementation unfolded and whether people felt it was effective.
What is the odd-even scheme?
On 3 December, the Delhi High Court - after observing that the air pollution levels in the national capital had reached "alarming" proportions and it was akin to "living in a gas chamber" — had directed the Centre and city government to present comprehensive action plans to combat it.
The trial period of the odd-even scheme ends today. AFP
A day later, the Delhi government announced that it will restrict the amount of vehicles on the road by allowing cars with odd and even number plates to run on roads only on respective odd and even dates. The measures were announced following an emergency meeting chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
It was also announced that all private vehicles, even having registration numbers issued by neighbouring states, will have to follow the odd-even number formula.
Emergency services and public transport will not be under the ambit of the restriction, Delhi Dialogue Commission Vice Chairperson Ashish Khetan had said, while noting that the idea has been borrowed from foreign countries.
Other important features of the scheme included the following:
• Number to decide implementation was set to be based on the last digit of the vehicle as displayed on the number plate. Zero was considered an even number.
• The rule was to be applicable only between 8 am and 8 pm every day.
• Women drivers, CNG-certified vehicles, VIPs, two-wheelers, ambulances, defence vehicles and embassy vehicles were exempted from the rule.
• Sundays were exempted from the rule.
• Trucks were to be allowed inside Delhi from 10.30 pm.
• The trial run of the formula was set from 1 to 15 January.
• Delhi Metro Rail Corporation was asked to increase its frequency and extend its timing.
• Delhi government planned to get 1000 new buses in the period between December and February.
• 200 check-points in the city were to be created to check pollution levels.
The reactions and events before 1 January
Apart from the expected criticism and politically manufactured outrage which parties opposing AAP expressed against the odd-even scheme, the policy for alternate dates for odd and even cars received considerable criticism from experts.
“There are two major concerns — one, exemption given to two-wheelers and second, to women. Two-wheelers contribute to more than 30% of the total pollution caused by the vehicles. It should have also been covered under the odd-even formula. And, should there be class differentiation? Majority of women use public transport in Delhi. Government shouldn’t have given exemption to women and should have treated them at par,” Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), had said.
Environmentalists had also said that bikes and scooters emit nearly 32 percents of air pollutants generated by the transport sector in Delhi, whereas private cars are the third biggest polluter — 22 percent, after diesel-run trucks, which causes nearly 28 percent of vehicular pollution.
On 30 December, the Delhi High Court had also asked the Delhi government to clarify why women and two-wheelers were exempt from the scheme.
However, the scheme had got support from the Chief Justice of India Tirath Singh Thakur, who had said that Supreme Court judges want to help in curbing the alarming level of air pollution in the national capital.
"If a judge of Supreme Court can pool cars (with brother judges), it sends a message to the people that we have no problem," he had told reporters. "We can walk down or even take a bus."
Moreover, the judiciary played an important role in helping the odd-even scheme be implemented at a time when there was a lot of opposition against it.
On 23 December, the Delhi High Court refused to give interim stay on AAP government's plan to impose the odd-even scheme. Earlier on 10 December, the high court had also refused to pass any interim direction on the PILs against the scheme, saying, "Delhi government has proposed an idea, which is to be implemented from 1 January, 2016, on trial basis for 15 days, let them (Delhi government) try it."
The scheme also caused friction between the AAP government and the Delhi Police. On 29 December, Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi had cautioned AAP volunteers against any form of vigilantism during the trial period. Reacting sharply to the remarks, Rai had said Bassi was ill-informed and was politicising the issue. "BS Bassi has said that AAP volunteers do not interfere in the odd-even programme. He should not speak as the spokesperson of some party," Rai had said in a oblique reference to BJP.
The trial period (1 - 15 January)
Despite all the criticism, the odd-even scheme began on a positive note on 1 January as there were few violators and the scheme was implemented peacefully across Delhi.
After the implementation of the scheme, many experts also said that the scheme had, in fact, worked. They opined that less congestion in Delhi owing to the scheme was shielding people from "direct exposure" to pollutants, especially in and around areas of high car density such as traffic junctions.
Experts had also unanimously endorsed that a reduction in the volume of cars was simultaneously bringing down levels of gaseous pollutants like oxides of nitrogen, sulphur dioxide and black carbon, which is a mixture of road dust and vehicle fumes.
The Delhi government had also told the Delhi High Court that the scheme had resulted in Delhi's lowest pollution peak compared to the previous high-smog episodes this winter. The Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), appointed by the Supreme Court, had confirmed the Delhi government's claim, according to PTI.
Perhaps the biggest support to the scheme came on Thursday, when the Supreme Court refused urgent hearing of a petition challenging the AAP government's notification on the scheme and the subsequent Delhi High Court decision which upheld it.
Terming the petition as a "publicity stunt", a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur said, "There is no urgency in the matter. Let it come up in due course."
"The government is taking some steps to control the pollution. People are dying due to pollution and you are challenging it for publicity," the bench had said.
However, reports also said that even though most of the people in Delhi felt the scheme worked, a sizeable number of people also felt that autos and taxis were fleecing them and thus, did not want the scheme to continue.
An analysis by Indiaspend concluded that the scheme was not enough to significantly reduce the pollution levels in Delhi.
Although traffic was light, all but one of IndiaSpend’s 17 sensors across the National Capital Region had recorded “severe”, or the worst-possible level of air pollution, with some sensors registering record highs.
Irrespective of whether the odd-even scheme was effective or not, the fact remains that it has been influential not just in Delhi but all over India as well.
On Thursday, a PIL was filed in the Bombay High Court seeking introduction of odd-even rule for private cars on Mumbai roads on the lines of the pattern adopted in Delhi.
On the same day, St Stephen's College students vowed to adopt the odd-even formula for usage of cell phones, saying the devices are "lethal" for health as well as intellectual life.
Thus, the trial period of the odd-scheme had an impact on the nation in more ways than one.
(With agency inputs)
Published Date: Jan 15, 2016 19:19 PM | Updated Date: Jan 15, 2016 19:20 PM
Tags :#Aam Aadmi Party#AAP#Arvind Kejriwal#BJP#Cars#CriticalPoint#Delhi#Delhi CM#Delhi High Court#Environment#Gopal Rai#India#Odd-Even Scheme#Pollution#Supreme Court