In India’s capital New Delhi an ambitious car rationing scheme is currently underway to bring down the record-breaking air pollution levels.
The initiative has taken more than a third of the city’s private cars off the road, easing traffic congestion significantly.
The government intends to repeat the scheme for two weeks every month, but as Bismillah Geelani reports, many feel the scheme is just a drop in the ocean given Delhi’s chronic levels of pollution.
Forty five year old Joginder Singh is one of the hundreds of volunteers standing on Delhi roads with a mission to make the city’s air breathable.
He holds a bunch of roses in his hand, offering them to people not complying with the ongoing car rationing program.
“This is a polite way of asking people not to violate the traffic rules and we can see it is working.”
Apart from the volunteers, thousands of policemen are also on the ground across the city to ensure the initiative is a success.
Those who don’t heed to flowers are made to pay a fine of almost $30.
Mukesh Kumar learned his lesson this way. He has a hybrid car, he tells me, and thought it might not apply to the scheme.
The car rationing program is known as “odd and even”. Vehicles with odd number plates are allowed to ply on odd days of the month, while those with even numbers run on even days.
Two wheelers, women driving their vehicles, some judges, and several political leaders have been exempted from the scheme.
The program was introduced on a 2-week trial basis in January this year with a purpose to bring down the alarmingly high air pollution levels.
But there are conflicting reports about whether it actually was effective.
Anomita Roy, from the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment says it came in handy, at least in preventing further a deteriorating situation.
“This scheme has helped us to shave off the peak. We have looked at the day and it shows that the peaking of pollution that happened around that time when the weather was very hostile was lower than that had happened during the months of November and December when the weather was much better. It’s not that we have solved the problem because we are at the super severe level, even if you get a little bit of reduction or you avoid further worsening of it that just shows how challenging pollution control in this city is.”
However, the visible impact of the car rationing that everyone acknowledges is less vehicular congestion on Delhi roads.
According to the Central Road Research Institute 35 percent more road space was available to commuters, and average travel time reduced significantly.
And this, says Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejrival, is the reason the scheme has been brought back for another two weeks on public demand.
“It was not the fear of the fine that made people follow the scheme, they followed it because they understood its importance and the most important benefit they noticed was that it left Delhi roads almost empty. Earlier the distance that used to take two hours was now covered in just one hour. That’s why people want it back some even permanently, and are willing to bear the inconvenience that it causes.”
In the first stage, the move had overwhelming public and political support.
But this time there are many critics.
Many argue the exclusion of two-wheelers, that double the numbers of cars and cause much more pollution, defeats the very purpose.
Others say the government needs to strengthen the public transport system first.
Journalist and blogger Shivam says the government is hoodwinking the people.
“The aim and objective of this scheme was to reduce pollution but that hasn’t gone down. Forget the data, we all have noses, have we felt actually the pollution has gone down, I felt may be there’s something wrong with my nose and I asked a cross section of people, the pollution has not gone down, but we have been fed so much propaganda that pollution is going down and very smartly the main achievement of this scheme has been shifted from pollution to road congestion which was never the objective.”
But Anomita Roy of the Centre for Science and Environment insists that even just easing the congestion is a significant contribution towards pollution control.
“In congestion when vehicles remain stuck and idle the pollution from the same vehicle is going to double. At the same time the exposure from the public health perspective to what we breathe when we are on the road and close to the roadside is actually several times higher than what you see on the ambient level.”
But whatever the argument for or against the odd and even scheme, there’s almost agreement that it is an emergency response and not a solution in itself.
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