Should other cities such as Bengaluru which are equally badly polluted as Delhi follow this scheme and introduce it because it’s being bandied as a success?
It has been termed as a success. In fact, it was in the first couple of hours on the first day of this New Year, the fledgling Delhi Government seemed to have won and silenced all the critics of their so-called odd-even scheme that they introduced by curbing the number of vehicles on the roads of the capital to control the nation’s capital’s alarming rise in pollution levels.
The manner in which it was rolled out -- rather hurriedly, just a few days before the scheme was to be introduced on January 1, 2016 – caught all by surprise with few believing that it was possible to actually implement.
On paper, the scheme was very simple: private cars with registration numbers ending with odd numbers would be allowed on an odd numbered day of the month while on the even number of the day of the month, cars with numbers ending with an even would be allowed.
A fine for breaking this law fine-tuned with a clutch of exemptions given along the way in the run-up to the D day was set at Rs 2,000.
But considering the fact that around 1,400 new cars are added each day (not to mention the lakhs of traffic coming from other States and the already existing vehicles), the scheme was to last for a period of 15 days) -- critics not only termed it as kneejerk policy, but also as a political gimmick of the State Government of Delhi led by Mr Arvind Kejriwal.
After all, the incumbent State has been at loggerheads with the Centre on almost all issues since they came to power last year. A critical flashpoint made out by the State Government of Delhi was on the subject of law and order or policing that was and is directly under the Central Government and not the Delhi State Government (this is unlike other States as Delhi is also the nation’s capital State) and it has been that way before the elections of last year and continues to be so even today.
With the duty of enforcing this law at the doorstep of Delhi traffic police, with barely any time for preparing, the stage was set for some fireworks of sorts.
No wonder then, in the run-up, the scheme, on the one hand, got termed as “not workable” or that “people of Delhi would find ways to circumvent the scheme”, “work schedules would be affected” or even that “the public transport is not good enough to support such a sudden curb of vehicles” and so on.
On the other hand, there were these stories of other cities in the world -- that of Mexico City, Bogota, and Beijing--that tried out this scheme to support this stringent measure.
While it’s a different matter on why choicest of cities are taken as lead examples, it is also true that nobody was against the root of introducing the scheme—which is to curb pollution levels.
In fact, a large section of vigilante citizens were prepared to volunteer to even “educate the masses” on reducing the pollution levels and stick to the odd-even scheme. Calling for building of a better healthy environment for the adults of tomorrow, school children of today were roped in to spread the message by standing on critical intersections of the capital’s roads to spread the message of curbing pollution.
With the world watching with bated breath on what would happen on day one of the New Year when the scheme was introduced, the citizens of Delhi surprised themselves to find the compliance rate of nearly 100 percent.
While the expectations were of huge violations and heavy traffic snarls, till about noon on January 1, 2016 – or about four hours into the scheme – there were barely any offenders. It was a smooth ride! The Delhi Government that was also waiting with bated breath, quickly declared it as a “success” (some would like to believe, if it led to chaos, they already knew whom to blame).
To be fair, but for some hardships here and there, the compliance has been fairly good for the full period of 15 days.
But is this a “success” in the first place? Should other cities such as Bengaluru which are equally badly polluted as Delhi follow this scheme and introduce it because it’s being bandied as a success?
The answer to both is a firm “No”.
Why is it being called a success in the first place? Is it because traffic congestion has come down and it takes lesser time to travel? Well, this may be partly true(the traffic police acted also prudently and didn’t set up barricades all over the city) but the objective is to cut down pollution, not to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. If the latter was the objective, then simply make it expensive to not only buy a car but also to run a car. It’s that simple.
And people would be willing to adhere to this if the public transport system was so good that it is a perfect substitute. But we all know there’s nothing like a perfect substitute.
Yes, by reducing the number of vehicles, there would be some amount of reduction of pollution initially – but this can be negated easily as people have started owning more than one or even two vehicles(with the objective that they have at least one with an odd number and another with an even number). And in any case studies done by IIT have indicated that vehicular pollution is only a small portion of the total air pollution in Delhi.
But here are some hard facts to consider before other cities try and replicate the Delhi scheme.
A seasonal factor
Pollution is not limited by State boundaries. Pollution from neighbouring towns including industrial townships within 50-80 km of Delhi’s boundaries probably have more harmful material being uploaded into the atmosphere every hour than all the vehicles (with euro standards) that can run through/in Delhi probably in a week. In some industrial townships enroute to Jaipur, barely 50 km from Delhi border, it is difficult to even stand on the road because of the pollution. The same fumes (mostly invisible) reach Delhi as well. Then, there’s the fact that high pollution is a seasonal factor in Delhi’s winters because of fog and burning of crop in nearby villages.
There’s large amount of pollution created not by large power stations but by smaller ones -- the large private diesel generators that run offices and plush housing colonies in and around Delhi simply because there’s adequate power to meet their demand from the utility companies.
In the exemptions provided to implement the scheme, it’s ludicrous that the State government allowed private two-wheelers that by any stretch of imagination are more polluting than cars. Not to mention the sound some these bikes create (yes there’s something called noise pollution as well).
The question that comes to mind is: Did people willingly stick to this policy for the larger good? There’s no clear answer. Some may have done this for the good cause and didn’t want to break the law. Then there were some who feared paying a hefty fine or for that matter did not want to be caught on social media driving the wrong car on the wrong day. And, in the back of their mind was also the fact that the scheme was temporary and found a way to adjust.
For cities even thinking of implementing this scheme should remember, Delhi is built in concentric circles with interconnections thereby giving several options to go from one point to another. This is unlike any other city in the country–like say Mumbai or even Bengaluru. This feature of Delhi gives the distinct advantage of diverting traffic to other feeders in case of a jam or huge backing up in one section of the road in Delhi – something that other cities don’t have.
Then Delhi’s public transport (which is a substitute for using car), including its metro network and city buses are more and better than other cities. But even these in Delhi can be stretched up to a particular point and not beyond (you can’t have a metro train longer than the station). Other cities fall far behind in public transport especially in metro trains.
It needs to be mentioned that it’s not as though there have been no steps in the past to reduce Delhi’s pollution – from introducing pollution-free certificates to CNG vehicles, lots of initiatives have been done. It’s not as though these have not worked. It’s just that they have not been enough which is why pollution levels are still high in the city. Imagine the situation if these initiatives were not taken at all.
All stake holders need to be involved in order to stop or arrest the rise in pollution of which having a robust public transport system is one element.
Curbing vehicles is not the long-term solution to the pollution problem. Rather it’s just a headline hogging one which can be played either way in the case of Delhi – success is mine and failure is yours.
We don’t need that in the battle against pollution and building a better future.
The success of the Delhi scheme is in the fact that some drivers have now learnt what an even number is and what an odd number is!