Delhi State Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is trying to save Delhi and its condemned citizens from a calamity. That Delhi's air will soon turn into poison and choke us is a fait-accompli. Somebody will have to clean it, if not us, then the generation that follows. Drastic measures can be deferred — at huge costs — but they are inevitable.
At the cost of incurring the wrath of political rivals, and amid mounting criticism, the Kejriwal government is at least trying to act before it is too late. If it manages to find a solution, the Delhi model could become a paradigm for other cities to follow. The Delhi government deserves cheers and cooperation, not jeers.
The Delhi government is getting ready to test the ambitious Odd-Even formula for cars beginning Friday in its bid to curb growing air pollution in the national capital.
While there has been criticism of the plan, the preparations to implement the formula have also been steady with all stakeholders looking into minutest details to ensure the measure is implemented effectively.
The big question, however, is - are Delhiites ready?
Here's your one-stop guide to the Odd-Even scheme that will help you prepare better for being on the roads in Delhi for the next fortnight:
- The odd-even scheme would be implemented on a trial basis from January 1 to 15.
- Restrictions under the odd-even plan would apply only to cars.
- Restrictions would apply to private vehicles - public transport vehicles would not fall under the purview of the odd-even scheme.
- Two-wheelers will remain out of the purview of the formula, at least for now. However, there are indications the plan could be extended to cover two-wheelers as well later.
- Curbs on vehicles would be in place from 8 am to 8 pm from Mondays to Saturdays. No restrictions would apply on Sunday.
- As per the plan, cars with their registration numbers ending in odd numbers (mentioned on number plates) will be allowed on the roads of Delhi only on odd dates like 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9.
- Similarly, cars with their registration numbers ending in even numbers will be allowed on the roads of Delhi only on even dates like 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10.
- Cars coming in from the regions surrounding the National Capital Territory like Noida, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad etc would also have to follow the guidelines.
- Those who violate the rules laid down under the scheme would be fined Rs 2,000.
- Schools in the capital would remain closed during the trial period.
- The Delhi government has come out with a list of 25 categories which will be exempt from the scheme. Among these are VIPs, women drivers, CNG-certified vehicles, two wheelers and those carrying the differently-abled. To read the complete list, click here.
- Interestingly, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has announced that neither he and his family nor other Delhi ministers would be exempt from the plan. The CM added that they will carpool to work during the trial period.
- Kejriwal has sought cooperation from the public in Delhi for making the plan a success, while stating that the scheme may be discontinued if there are a huge number of violators.
- A woman driving a car, even while being accompanied by female co-passengers and children up to the age of 12, would be exempted. Initially, there was a plan to exempt only single women drivers.
- Cases of medical emergencies would also be exempted - in the words of Delhi CM - on the "basis of trust".
- Owners of CNG-fitted cars will need to paste prescribed stickers on the windscreen which are being issued by Indraprastha Gas Limited.
- Emergency and enforcement vehicles such as ambulances, fire brigade, police vehicles, hearse vehicles, transport department vehicles are out of the plan's ambit as well.
- Senior citizens, doctors, lawyers, who had petitioned the government seeking exemption, will have to abide by the regulations.
- Embassy vehicles bearing CD numbers, cars with defence ministry number plates, vehicles which are having a pilot or escort have also been exempted.
- The US Embassy here has backed the odd and even number car formula and decided to comply with the restrictions despite being exempted.
- There are over 19 lakh private four-wheelers registered in Delhi and nearly half of these are expected to go off the roads with the implementation of the odd-even formula.
- Around 5,000 civil defence volunteers would be on Delhi roads to assist police in implementing the odd-even scheme.
- Delhi Metro services would run at their peak frequency during the trial period.
- The Delhi government will run 3,000 additional buses to accommodate additional commuters. The government had originally planned to bring in an extra 6,000 buses.
- As per the blueprint, cars bearing odd number plates would not be even allowed to park in public parking lots during even number dates and vice-versa.
- Cars, if found parked on designated bus lanes being marked across the city, would also attract penalty.
Simultaneously,the Delhi government announced on Friday that vehicles with odd and even number plates will ply on alternate days in the city from January 1, in an effort to curb rising pollution in the national capital.
In the past, 15 odd cities (mostly capitals) with serious air pollution issues, have tried the odd–even traffic rationing based on number plates.
While some cities saw genuine reduction in pollution levels, the policy has failed in many other cities, as citizens found a way to circumvent the rule by purchasing two cars with number plates ending with odd and even numbers - there by achieving the opposite.
Here is a low down of what happened in some of the cities when the restrictions were imposed.
What is so amusing about the idea of banning cars on alternate days on the basis of their registration numbers?
It is not a Talibani idea — as some have argued — but a concept inspired by reasonably successful implementation in many developed countries.
In Sao Paulo, for instance, vehicle rotation system based on registration numbers has been prevalent for over a decade, leading to emulation by many Latin American governments.
In 2008, after its successful trial before the Olympics, a system of road-rationing system based on licence plates was made mandatory in Beijing. The effects of the rotation system are well documented. According to studies in Beijing, the emission levels came down to 40 percent after the system was introduced. There were, of course, the other tangible benefits: lesser vehicles on roads, decreased demand for fuel and a minor drop in road accidents.
And, people loved it. One survey in Beijing revealed that 95 percent of the people supported the restrictions because they believed they were meant to make their lives better.
So, if Latin American countries can implement the idea, if Beijing can be happy with the system, why can't Delhi accept it?
The main problem is with the mindset. It doesn't occur to many of us that both road and air are common public resources; they are not our private assets.
We can live in gated communities, drink packaged water, may even consume home-grown vegetables, fruits and grains but nobody in this world can have his own brand of air or walk on his private road. Everybody, regardless of caste, creed, religious identity, economic status has to breathe the same air and travel on the same road.
Since all of us have equal rights to this resource, we have equal responsibilities. This is precisely why the argument that people will get around this restriction by buying a new car with a different registration number smacks of selfishness and irresponsibility.
We may use the resources common to us, but we don't have the right to exploit and destroy those.
Those who harbour such intentions should be treated as enemies of the environment and also of those who own this common resource: We the people.
Instead of resorting to hand-wringing because some self-centred citizens wish to flout the proposed restrictions, the government should ensure that owning additional vehicles doesn't become rewarding, but is made an environmental offence.
Perhaps, it can take a leaf out of Beijing's book and implement regulations that discourage needless buying of vehicles in cities so that the masses do not suffer due to the myopia of the self-centred, irresponsible classes.
The biggest challenge for the government, of course, would be to ensure that restrictions are implemented without creating problems for people. If the use of private vehicles is to be discouraged, it should be simultaneously accompanied by a plan for ensuring last-mile connectivity via public transport, initiatives for carpooling, use of non-polluting modes of commuting and safe tracks for walking and cycling.
When restrictions are placed on such a large scale, their implementation becomes a massive challenge. In India, it could also lead to large-scale corruption and harassment by those who will have the powers to implement the new measures. Kejriwal will have to ensure that less traffic on roads doesn't automatically lead to more money for corrupt traffic cops.
But, the challenges should not deter the government from prescribing these life-saving measures.
And those opposing them should know that they are like boiling frogs: Instead of laughing, they should do something to save themselves from a gruesome end.
Those laughing at the Delhi government's decision to restrict the number of vehicles on roads should know this: The joke is really on them.
The sooner they realise that they are living in a gas chamber and need to make drastic changes to their mindsets and lifestyles, the better it would be for them and their future generations. Cynical attitude will only feed the cancerous tumour of pollution, leading all of us to our calamitous tryst with destiny.