The New Year 2016 was ushered in by most Delhiites with a heated debate on the unconventional odd-even pilot experiment by the Delhi Government. With the much talked about motorists trial by the Delhi Government coming to an end, at least for now, the big question on everyone’s mind is – whether the scheme actually worked or not?
The main aim of the scheme was to clean up the city’s notoriously polluted air. However, by the end of the fortnight one still couldn’t see the clear blue skies one had hoped for while forfeiting the use of one’s car on alternate days. But does that mean the scheme was a flop? Certainly not!
Expecting dramatic changes in the quality of air in just two weeks is unrealistic, says Vivek Chatopadhay of the Centre for Science and Environment. “The CNG order took a couple of years to show the impact so how can we expect sudden changes so soon? Vehicles contribute to about 20 percent of the pollution level in the city. During the period in which odd even scheme was in place the direct emission of pollutants from cars came down by almost 30 percent. This is a huge success in itself.”
However, there has been contrary data about the level of pollution during the period in which the scheme was in place. According to a report by India spends, the air pollution level actually rose by 15 percent during 1st to 15th of January. The report also says that during this period the PM 2.5 concentration was about 309 micrograms per cubic metre which is ‘severe’, according to central pollution control guidelines. But this has been one of the few who criticised the scheme, while most others hailed the initiative. In fact, according to another report by researchers at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago’s evidence, respirable pollutants in the city reduced by about 18 percent during the time the scheme was in place.
In a recent press conference Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called the scheme a big ‘success’, claiming that ‘the scheme resulted in Delhi’s lowest pollution peak as compared to last year’s smog episodes’.
“In December last year the average pollution level was around 400 micrograms per cubic metre but this year our data shows that it is at 300 micrograms per cubic metre at over 18 locations we monitored”, claims Gopal Rai, Delhi Transport Minister.
Many experts feel that a simplistic answer to whether the scheme resulted in lowering down pollution levels significantly or not. “Pollution level varies with time and weather conditions. This time the pollution didn’t come down drastically as strong winds which could blow away particulate matter didn’t blow” says a senior scientist at IMD, who didn’t wish to be named.
Even though most experts believe that the scheme helped in cutting down pollutants from the city’s toxic air to some extent, there were a few voices of dissent. But there’s one thing everyone agreed with and that is that traffic on the roads reduced drastically.
Raj Jain, who works at an NGO in Mandi House and lives in Gurgaon, DLF Phase II says that “Earlier it used to take me more than an hour to reach my office from home but during the odd-even fortnight I could easily reach in 30-40 minutes”.
Though the un-clogging of Delhi’s road could have some relation to the fact that schools were shut but the odd-even scheme was a huge reason behind it. “If the traffic on the road reduces then certainly the pollution would also reduce. And during this period we saw massive reduction in traffic during peak hours. Even a cursory glance at this would show that the pollution levels reduced,” says Vivek Chatopadhay of the Center for Science and Environment.
During the time, the burden on public transport increased. The Delhi metro which is capable of taking 32 lakh passengers daily had about ten to fifteen thousand extra passengers, and despite the Government adding extra buses most routes saw overcrowded buses. But most Delhiites seemed ok to adjust if it helped cut down pollution.
Aanchal Kandpal, who lives in RK Puram and works in Gurgaon, travels by Metro every day. She said, “Ever since odd-even has come into place the metro is over-crowded but if it helps reduce pollution we are willing to cooperate.”
Another major success of the scheme other than reducing congestion on roads has been increasing public awareness about the issue. Wherever you go, heated arguments on odd-even can be heard. Whichever radio channel you tuned into, you could hear Kejriwal greeting his fellow Delhiites asking them to follow the odd even rule. From jokes on social media to analysis by experts, the scheme certainly helped in creating awareness about the need to tackle the issue of rising air pollution in the city.
Many people tried carpooling for the first time in their lives during the scheme. “I would have never thought of carpooling had it not been for the odd-even scheme”, says Rohitash Chakraborty , a lawyer by profession, who lives in Mayur Vihar and travels to Tis Hazari Court, every second day.
Though most policy makers are happy with the scheme but most agree that policy makers will have to look beyond cars to clean up Delhi’s air. According to a study by IIT-Kanpur dust from roads and pollution from burning solid municipal waste is a huge source of pollution as well.
“Burning of agricultural waste in nearby towns also is a massive source of pollution. Another major source of pollution in the city are trucks. The government needs to build a dedicated freeway just for trucks. No truck should be allowed to enter the city before 10 pm and heavy fines should be imposed on defaulters. Merely implementing odd-even for 15 days won’t tackle the problem”, says Sumit Sharma a fellow with TERI.
With the Government now making it clear that they are thinking of giving another shot to the scheme with certain improvisations, many experts say there is a need to do lot more.
“The Government needs to promote non-motorised ways of travel for short commutes. Like building dedicated cycle lanes, giving appropriate space for parking of cycles” says Vipin Asthana of United RWA Joint Action of Delhi.
While the odd-even policy may be run as a short term measure, whether the policy can actually yield results in the long run is extremely doubtful. Experience abroad teaches otherwise, like in Mexico City people actually started buying second hand cars which are actually more polluting.
However, cities like London and Singapore have congestion pricing programme where drivers actually have to pay a price for using cars at certain times. While it has helped in reducing the number of cars which come out on the roads there, its feasibility in India is still doubtful. Meanwhile, the odd-even formula may have helped in de-congesting Delhi’s roads and reducing pollution to a certain extent, it’s neither a complete nor a permanent solution to the tackle the rising pollution. A multi-pronged strategy including a robust public transport system, curbing of burning agricultural and municipal waste within and outside Delhi is something the Government should consider before the next phase of implementation of the policy, if it seriously wants to do something about the rising pollution levels in the city.