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15 Crucial Lessons India Needs To Learn From Delhi’s Odd-Even Experiment

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By Richard Mahapatra:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

delhi-road1. Emergency situation needs emergency measure: Delhi is facing one of the worst spells of air pollution this winter. The odd-even measure is a fitting response to such an emergency situation. Analysis already shows that the 15-day car-control measures have curtailed pollution.

2. Public participates if politicians show will: The evident acceptance of the experiment despite early apprehensions shows that people are willing to become sensible participants if those in power show the will to take tough measures. The experiment has immense lessons for the rolling out of schemes which need public participation.

3. If people participate, politicians support: In India, every executive decision leads to political polarisation wherein opposing parties oppose for the sake of opposition. The odd-even experiment is no exception. But barely three days into the experiment, the Opposition pledged their unconditional support. Elsewhere in the country, ruling politicians declared similar efforts in urban areas.

4. The convenience v inconvenience lesson on governance: Arvind Kejriwal’s anti-corruption drive, which brought him into the limelight, didn’t enjoy as much sustained support as his odd-even experiment did. It seems that people saw air pollution as a huge health risk or inconvenience and, thus, bartered away the convenience of driving to work for cleaner air.

5. Public mass transport is still the way out: The odd-even experiment showed that if the public transport system is improved, people will opt for it. During the 15 days, the government deployed almost 4,000 extra buses. It was a rare sight to see buses which were not too crowded despite a big chunk of private cars being off roads.

6. DTC is capable: The experiment showed that with rationalisation of routes and less congestion, the much maligned Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) can be effective. DTC has about 4,712 buses. But its utilisation during 2014-15 has been only 83.99 percent against the 85.5 percent in 2013-14. This is much worse compared to what state transport undertakings have achieved in other cities—95 percent in Bengaluru and Chandigarh. At any given point of time, at least 400 to 500 buses stand unutilised in Delhi’s depots due to poor maintenance or missed trips. This number of unutilised buses is equal to the total bus fleet in smaller cities. Reports show that during the experiment, the depots were almost empty.

7. Decongestion is the starting point for cleaning the air: Post-analysis scientific data will vouch for the experiment’s impact on air quality. But for the aam admi, the impacts are clear—fewer cars on roads mean a smooth ride, thus avoiding the unnecessary burning of fuels while being stuck in traffic jams. Also, less traffic means the public bus system ran more buses in a day.

8. Pollution did come down; so fewer vehicles on roads are desirable: An analysis carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has shown that this winter, of all the severe smog episodes so far (with several consecutive days in severe category), the peak pollution during the odd-even programme has been the lowest. This shows that despite the hostile weather conditions—no wind, temperature dip and western disturbance—peak pollution during the odd and even scheme was much lower. The earlier smog episodes have seen much higher peaks and much more rapid build-up compared to the rise during the first week of January.

9. There is a sense of participation in solving one of the biggest challenges of modern times: During the experiment, the pollution load from cars was lower; per capita emissions of car users were also low. Data with CSE shows that both the particulate and nitrogen oxide load from cars reduced substantially during the odd-even programme—by as much as 40 percent. A higher share of pollution benefits have come from a reduction in diesel cars.

10. Reduced exposure to toxic pollution from vehicles on roads and in the vicinity: It is estimated by the US-based Health Effect Institute that the maximum impact of vehicular pollution is up to 500 metres from the road side and 55 percent of Delhi’s population lives within that zone. This has serious public health implications. Studies by researchers of the University of California, Berkeley, have shown that in Delhi, the pollution level on the road and close to the road is at least 1.5 times higher and peaks 15 times higher than the ambient concentration. This programme has, therefore, contributed to the reduction in exposure to toxic fumes.

delhi traffic11. A CNG-fuelled bus is a global warming fighter: The user of a single occupancy petrol car meeting Bharat Stage IV standards can reduce per capita particulate emissions per kilometre by at least two times by using a CNG bus. The benefit will be higher if the shift is from cars meeting older emissions norms.
The user of single occupancy diesel car meeting Bharat Stage IV norms can reduce per capita particulate emissions per kilometre by at least 40 times by using a CNG bus. If the shift is from a diesel SUV, the reduction will double.

Car pooling will reduce the per capita emissions by four times from the same car. Riding in the Metro is a zero-emission activity in the city (this does not account for emissions from electricity generation). The odd-even formula will also result in massive fuel savings and also mitigation of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions. Per capita CO2 emissions from a single occupancy petrol car can reduce by 15 times when we use buses. Also, per capita CO2 emissions from a single occupancy diesel car can reduce by 13 times when we shift to buses. This translates into substantial fuel savings.

12. Tax the cars more than the public buses: Enhanced media focus on the experiment brought out the crucial fact that public transport buses are taxed more than private cars. It is an environmental injustice or say, an incentive for pollution. However, it is heartening to know that the judiciary has taken steps to fix this.

13. The demand for better public transport rises: As the city returned to roads without odd-even restrictions on January 16, there is going to be increased awareness and, thus, consequent demand for more public transport facilities.

14. Politicians see electorates: The success of the experiment because of public participation has rung electoral alarms. From Uttar Pradesh to Karnataka, politicians now want to experiment with the odd-even system. There might be a competitive spree among states to roll out many such anti-pollution measures.

15. Public health is back on the agenda: The experiment worked because the threat to public health is real and people have already suffered. It was rolled out with public health as the main issue. This means the country’s capital has set an example by putting public health under the lens.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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