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Delhi Is A ‘Gas Chamber’, But I Don’t Think The Odd-Even Car Formula Can Change This

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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!

delhi air pollution fotor

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.

4. Emergency

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!

dekhi CM kejriwal
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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!

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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