According to studies, both the earlier schemes had failed in reducing pollution considerably.
Delhi transport minister Kailash Gahlot today announced the return of the odd-even scheme from November 13 as part of the government’s response to tackle the deteriorating air quality in the national capital. However, unlike the earlier two editions, this time, the scheme is being implemented for just five days – up to November 17.
Over the last two days, the national capital has been witnessing extreme levels of air pollution. The air quality index (AQI) – a measure of the level of pollutants in the air – shot past 400 in many places in the city, forcing the administration to sound the alarm and announce tougher emergency measures in an attempt to reverse the trend.
The lieutenant governor of Delhi, Anil Baijal, banned the entry of trucks inside city limits, halted all construction activities and ordered civic bodies to enforce a fourfold hike in parking fees. Schools will remain shut till Sunday.
The Central Pollution Control Board blamed the pollution primarily on low wind speeds at the ground level, coupled with pollution, converging over Delhi at high altitudes. Authorities have blamed burning of stubble by farmers, use of poor quality furnace oil by industries and vehicular pollution.
Gahlot tweeted that a preparatory meeting has been planned for the scheme.
Will hold 2nd preparatory meeting today at 4:30 PM regarding Odd Even Issue with Commissioner Transport, Divisional Commissioner, CMD DTC and DIMTS.
— Kailash Gahlot (@kgahlot) November 8, 2017
The first phase of the scheme, which lasted a fortnight starting January 1, 2016, had won chief minister Arvind Kejriwal accolades in the international media. Kejriwal had even featured in Fortune magazine’s list of 50 top leaders.
Kejriwal, while E-inaugurating the installation of 20 Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations (CAAQMS) from the Delhi Secretariat today, urged the state governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to work with Delhi in finding “a solution for controlling and checking air pollution and searching the reasons thereof”. He declared that he was willing to meet the chief ministers of these states. However, talking to the media, Kejriwal blamed these states and the Centre for not providing incentives to the farmers to stop burning stubble.
Exemptions yet to be spelt out
However, the state government is yet to announce the exemptions to be granted in this phase of the odd-even scheme. In the earlier two schemes, women drivers and two-wheelers were exempted, along with certain other categories of motorists.
Both the earlier schemes, the second of which was implemented from April 16-30, 2016, had failed in reducing pollution considerably.
First phase of odd-even failed to reduce air pollution
A study by IIT Delhi noted that the first phase of odd-even had failed in most of its objectives. The study by the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP) had categorically stated that there was no reason to continue with the scheme. Dinesh Mohan, a former IIT professor and the lead author of the study, had noted, “Since there is no improvement in air pollution and the impact on congestion is so little and in fact, it also increased at times, there is no reason to continue it other than gaining international publicity”.
Pollution rose by 23% during second phase of odd-even
Similarly, the second phase of odd-even too, failed to enthuse scientists. In April 2016, when the second phase came to an end, it was reported that air pollution levels in Delhi had actually risen 23% during the period. Experts had said that the odd-even scheme should only be used as an emergency measure and not as a means of reducing pollution by lowering congestion.
Incidentally, while the AAP government had then planned to make this emergency measure a regular feature by running the scheme for a fortnight every month for the next year and a half, it had to drop the idea in the wake of severe criticism from environmentalists and the general public.
Use odd-even as emergency measure alone, environmentalists had demanded
Anumita Roychowdhury of the Centre for Science and Environment had then suggested that emergency action should involve shutting down power plants and industrial units and banning bonfires. Environmentalists had called for controlling the entry of trucks into the city, making all taxis run on cleaner natural gas and banning the registration of big diesel cars.
Another major demand was of an evolved public transport strategy. Roychowdhury had stated that women and two-wheeler riders should not be exempted from the odd-even scheme. She had also demanded that the Delhi government, which had provided budgetary allocation for 3,000 new buses, should implement the plan urgently. However, talking to The Wire, she lamented that not a single bus has been added in the last three years and their number has actually gone down significantly.
Hence, it remains to be seen if the third phase of the odd-even scheme will have any positive impact on air pollution.