Govt must revisit odd-even scheme

Govt must revisit odd-even scheme

The second round of the odd-even scheme in Delhi began with a telling admission by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Interacting with schoolchildren, he said the first trial in January had not come up to expectations on controlling pollution, but the people of Delhi were happy that it decongested their roads. It was not hard to miss the irony there. The reason the Delhi government took the extreme step of restricting cars on roads in January was the alarming rise in pollution. Reducing traffic was supposed to be a side-effect, albeit a very welcome one.

The jury is still not clear on the impact odd-even formula has on pollution. Kejriwal says the curbs on cars during the January fortnight cut pollution by at least 15%. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) reckons that this is an exaggeration. In fact, this time there hasn’t been any measurable impact of traffic restrictions on pollution. On some days, the pollution has actually been higher, largely because of the weather conditions. And there is worse news: the curbs this time have had a lesser impact on traffic congestion, compared to the first odd-even round. The Aam Aadmi Party government is blaming this partly on the heat, arguing that people don’t want to take public transport when it’s too hot. It is also crying ‘sabotage,’ citing an overheard conversation that purportedly suggests a conspiracy involving bus drivers to create breakdowns and traffic jams. Similarly, a panel has been announced to probe the recent landfill fires which the AAP government suggests were started by the BJP-run municipalities to negate the impact of the scheme on pollution.

Instead of indulging in conspiracy theories, the Delhi government needs to seriously revisit the idea it says it is toying with – imposing odd-even curbs for 15 days every month across the year. It now increasingly looks that would not be a very bright move. Experts warn of diminishing returns. If the odd-even rule becomes permanent, without a major improvement in public transport, people will find ways to circumvent them. For example, more motorists would buy second cars. And cars, in any case, are only one of the several causes of pollution; also blamed on the high population of two-wheelers, diesel trucks entering the city, construction waste, and garbage burning. Kejriwal says his government can set public transportation right in two years. This may look like an impossible timeline. But he should go for it. Working seriously on a comprehensive public transport solution may not result in instant headlines, but in the long run this is what the capital needs.

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