The gas chamber. Delhi air is not fit to breathe. Snarling traffic and long jams. The national capital probably absolved itself from aforesaid headlines, at least during its days of experiment. There are several brownie points to take from the bitter Odd-Even formula (OE)—substantial reduction in vehicular pollution, majority of Delhiites following the Odd-even, clear roads and above all citizens’ active participation.
On 8 January Delhi’s transport minister Gopal Rai came up with review of OE, which was also submitted to Delhi High Court in order to continue with the plan. “Despite the fact that this is most unfavourable weather Delhi is experiencing at least 20-25% reduction in PM 2.5 level pollution as compared to December” said Rai. Days later his parliamentary secretary and Aam Aadmi Party MLA Sanjeev Jha tells TEHELKA that the results are encouraging and we saw almost 50% reduction in vehicular pollution.
Delhi’s air pollution worsens during winters. Unfortunately, this year the fog is yet to hit streets of Delhi as usual instead the constant weather updates show presence of smog or smoke. This situation is due to high presence of particulate matter (PM) in the air. The PM which is less than 10 micrometers in diameter is called (PM10) and those less than 2.5 mm are known as (PM2.5). The United States Environment Protect agency says “PM 10 poses a health concern because they can be inhaled and accumulate in the respiratory system. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as “fine” particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.”
According to Delhi government PM 2.5, which includes vehicular pollution, is one of the prime contributors to air pollution. Interestingly, in the pre-OE days Delhi’s areas topped the list of most polluted areas of the country—which on the 13 day dropped down to 6,7,8 spots, all from the outer Delhi. However, the pollution level is still 4 to five times higher than World health organization’s the standard which says that PM2.5 should be upto 25 ug cubic meter.
The Odd-Even policy was outcome of the car-free day—in which a particular road is marked as car free and only public and commercial vehicles are allowed to ply. The observations of difference in the pollution level by government and non government agencies on these days encouraged the Delhi Government to roll the rationing of road formula. The transport department and government had their own apprehension regarding success of Odd-Even including the chances of road rage and public outcry.
However, the response on new year’s first day and in the subsequent days took them by surprise. The formula got full support from Supreme Court judges including the Chief Justice of India TS Thakur fared well in terms of public response. Despite Delhi High courts questioning and 12 petition to derail anti-pollution drive Delhi Government chose to fight till end in order to collect ‘sufficient sample and data’ for future plans. Over 27 mobile pollution reading cum displays boards were placed at different location in Delhi. The buzz was further carried out by hundreds of paid Civil Defense volunteers who were appointed to assist the traffic police and revenue department in order to ensure the implementation of the Odd-Even.
“We hardly encounter violators. So far there has been no case of altercation with the drivers,” says a civil defense volunteer. While in the beginning phase they were provided with rose, mask, placards, later the roses were replaced with pamphlet. However, the traffic police has different story to tell. “People are taking undue advantage of the exemptions. Violators are mostly from outside Delhi or those who live in the nearby locality,” says a traffic constable while he was drawing a challan of car which a volunteer got impounded. He further adds that locals particularly from specific communities had created ruckus during these days.
Delhi transport department claimed of that it had arranged adequate infrastructure requirements in the public transport system. Rejecting the political propaganda which flared after a fake picture of over-crowed metro station was circulated on social media, Gopal Rai said, “Delhi metro authorities have assured us that they can still take 4 lakh more commuters. Our bus and hired fleets are capable of catering 8 to 10 lakh more passengers.” Delhi government which has 6000 buses hired extra 1200 private buses to assist DTC (state bus service) sharing its experience said that apart from peak hours, these buses remained almost vacant.
While the traffic police was asked to focus on private cars, the state enforcement agency was given charge of mending irritant autowallahs and the revenue department was asked to ensure the implementation of the scheme on the outskirts of Delhi. Interestingly, the government was able to collect over 1.5 crore through challans. Rai had assured that this money will used to provide subsidy on purchase of bicycles.
The experimental odd-even policy has fared well. PM 2.5 which was as high as 300 to 400 had reduced to 150 and in some areas even below. But glaring questions on Delhi’s public transport remain intact. One shouldn’t forget that Delhi schools were closed during these days, which took off a huge chunk of traffic and commuters from roads. Sanjeev Jha tells, “We cannot expect those commuting by private cars today to switch to DTCs buses at present. We will need to bring luxury buses and last mile connectivity to reduce dependence on the private transport.”