Odd-even rule: Delhiites' pain

After the ‘success’ so far of the odd-even restrictions on Delhi’s roads, the Aam Aadmi Party government has been busy patting itself on the back. It is, however, too early to pop the champagne. True, the number of cars on the roads on any given day now is far less, reducing congestion. Delhiites do appear to have risen to the occasion or – if you are a sceptic – thought it wiser to comply rather than cough up the Rs 2,000 fine for driving a car with an odd-number plate on an even date. But it is also true that the Delhi government tried to even the odds for itself when it launched into the 15-day trial. It chose school holidays. Scooters and motorcycles, which collectively contribute, experts say, a bigger share of pollution in the city, were kept out of the ban. So were commercial vehicles. But the exemptions do reflect on the long-term viability of the scheme. Overall, it has inconvenienced a large number of Delhiites.

To make something like this sustainable, the transport infrastructure has to be in place. Interestingly, in radio ad spots, Kejriwal has been urging people to carpool, rather than take the bus or the Metro. But in the longer run, the buses and the Metro will have to shoulder a bigger load. The government has to ensure more frequent Metro trains, more buses and other means of last-mile connectivity. As the Supreme Court recently suggested, the enthusiasm for the odd-even plan will evaporate if public transport isn’t made a more relaxed affair.  The Kejriwal government has obviously not taken into account the fact that it is the industries, burning wood, construction activity etc which cause more air pollution than motor vehicles. A recent report from IIT Kanpur said pollution caused by cars is the miniscule part of the problem.

Perhaps it is early days yet, but there hasn’t been a dramatic drop in pollution levels since the experiment kicked off. The Kejriwal government will do well to keep in mind that the causes for pollution go far beyond cars. It is important to implement Supreme Court directions to keep away smoke-spewing trucks which pass through the city by their thousands every night. Industries, power plants, burning of municipal garbage, construction dust – all contribute to air pollution. Neighbouring states, with cities which are part of the National Capital Region, have also to be on board if Delhi is to breathe easy. The ‘world’s most polluted city’ needed to be shaken out of its complacency. Kejriwal’s odd measure has done just that. Now, his government needs to build on that in a more sustainable way.

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