Delhi is not the first city to undergo experiments like the odd-even rule. The concept was supposed to make its third entry in Delhi on November 13, 2017, for five days – but it didn’t happen. It has been tried globally before, in cities like Beijing, Paris, Mexico, Bogota and Rome. Though these experiments did make headlines every time they were tried, nationally and internationally, their impacts and success are still debatable.
The last two sessions of the odd-even rule were pursued in January 2016 and April 2016, respectively, in the national capital. As per the TERI University’s study, there was an increase in emissions of PM2.5 and PM10 particles by 25% and 22% in phase 1, and 39% and 26% in phase 2, respectively, due to meteorological and background factors.
The same study also mentions that a ‘closed-box’ method was also used to delineate the effects of the odd-even rule. It found out that there was a reduction in the PM2.5 emissions in both the sessions – with cut-downs of 7% and 4% respectively, which pretty much begs the question whether it was worth the aam aadmi’s troubles.
The stats, responses and trends coming out of the two experiments in Delhi do not reflect that the odd-even rule can revive Delhi by freeing it from the choking smog and air pollution. According to a study conducted by IIT Kanpur, cars account for only about 10% of the vehicular emissions in Delhi. Then again it should be remembered that vehicular emissions are not the only source of air pollution. May be the odd-even rule does not target the more distressing problems in Delhi.
When one tries to understand what the core of this complex problem is, they realise that the problem is actually deep-rooted. To have a stable territory with good governance, fair regulation and disciplined law enforcement in a country like India, it needs to have co-ordination between the municipality, police and the legislative government as the interdependent edges of the same triangle.
In Delhi, the current legislative arm of the government is run by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the municipal corporation is run by the BJP and the police reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, which is again under the BJP. Even after being the ‘Government of Delhi’, technically, it can neither necessarily enforce a law with the help of the Delhi police, nor can they keep a tap on activities like construction, littering and burning with the help of the municipality. Over and above, as Delhi has a status similar to that of Puducherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Lieutenant Governor must be taken into confidence for every decision, which hasn’t happened very smoothly in the current tenure of the Delhi government.
Being one of the four mega-metropolitans, Delhi always faces the issue of having a comparatively high air pollution rate. The point needs to be noted and remembered that Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai are located in coastal regions which gives them a natural advantage and helps them flush off the air pollution with the in-flowing sea breeze. Delhi is land-locked, and the air is stagnated by the manufacturing and industrial cities of Faridabad, Noida and Ghaziabad. It also suffers from the crop residue burning by the farmers of Punjab and Haryana respectively.
Delhi has a population of nearly 20 million with more than 2 million people below the poverty line. Still, it has more than 10 million vehicles. A number of studies have been done to reflect upon the inefficient usage of cars and its multiplying effect on the emissions released per person. But, is it right to blame people for owning more vehicles when Delhi is still short of around 4,000 buses along with the issue of last-mile connectivity, which has been recognised by the current chief minister himself?
Apart from the emissions which come out of Delhi’s cars and other vehicles, there is a considerable amount of emissions released every day by the burning of litter in the NCR. Burning of crop residues doesn’t have anything to do with the odd-even rule, and it needs to be addressed separately. A thermal power plant right in belly of a densely-packed mega-metropolitan city can never be ignored for its share to the menace. Finally, fines imposed on public smoking still need to begin effectively on ground.
It seems useless – but still, the existence and the trail of the odd-even rule cannot be denied in the present and the future. Having critiqued this attempt to curb air pollution, the innovative aspect to this attempted solution needs to be given due credit. The odd-even formula is a small solution to redressing a small component of air pollution caused by privately-owned cars.
As there are other similar and parallel sources of pollution (as mentioned above), there are similar innovative solutions (or experiments) which need to be explored and implemented. Measures like free or subsidised public transport during smog days, cheaper parking for e-vehicles or lower emission vehicles (like the ones using BS-VI grade petroleum), peer complaint helplines for garbage burners and bonus for complainers, more floor space area (FSA) for buildings with lesser emissions or green certificates, and increasing the green cover in the city by having more plants and trees, are definitely worth considering.
A version of this post was first published on the author’s blog.