Come New Years Day in 2016 and Delhi residents will become the subjects of a much debated experiment by the AAP government. In a desperate bid to bring down the alarming pollution levels in the country’s capital, private four-wheeler vehicles will be allowed to run only on alterte days based on their registration numbers. Registration numbers ending with odd digit, will be allowed on the road on odd dates, while those ending with even digits can be driven on even dates. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has promised Delhites that if this Odd-Even formula is too much trouble, it will be scrapped after 15 days. Warning that everyone must suffer if pollution has to be reduced, Kejriwal has invited people to send their suggestions about the proposal already put in public domain. Of course, the restriction will not apply to emergency vehicles like fire tenders, ambulances and PCR vans. The Delhi government has announced plans to put more CNG-driven buses on the roads and increase the frequency of metro trains. Car pool operators and auto rickshaw drivers are anticipating good times. But serious questions are being asked whether Delhi’s public transport is safe enough for women and convenient enough for the differently-abled. In particular, women’s groups have pointed out the sad truth that many women scrounge and save to buy their own vehicle and thereby escape eve-teasers and molesters infesting buses and trains. As of now, two-wheelers have been exempted from this restriction, but experts are calling for their inclusion if the pollution control move is to be effective.
The Delhi government has taken other measures like making it mandatory for all vehicles to follow Euro VI 2017 standards of emission, forbidding trucks to run across the capital city until 11 pm, ensuring garbage doesn’t get burnt in the open, and sending notices to shut down coal-firing Badarpur and Rajghat power plants. The government is also planning to collect air samples from 200 locations and set-up display boards at every location to let locals know about the air quality, as well as vaccum roads from April next to suck out suspended particulate matter (SPM). According to Delhi’s own System Of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), the capital city’s air quality is swinging between ‘very poor’ and ‘poor’, and is also ‘severe’ in some areas as far as SPM levels are concerned. According to data released by Paris-based Plume group, Delhi sees only two days of fresh air on average each year, with as much as eight months of ‘extreme’ pollution levels. All these readings have prompted the government of the world’s most polluted city to emulate Paris, Mexico city and Beijing in applying the Odd-Even formula. The Beijing administration did it just before the 2008 Olympics as a temporary measure, then made it permanent. But the Chinese capital has become more polluted over the years and its administration recently issued a red-alert for pollution for the first time. The Kejriwal government thus has got a huge battle on its hands to keep the capital city liveable, with about 90 lakh registered vehicles and 1,500 new vehicles added to its noxious roads every day. An alarmed Delhi High Court has directed the Central and State governments to come up with a comprehensive plan to check pollution, saying that life in the capital is like ‘living in a gas chamber’. With the Delhi police, which is under the Union Home ministry, reportedly saying it does not have the manpower and resources to implement the Odd-Even formula in the capital — the Centre will have to back the Delhi CM’s efforts to the hilt. But what is playing out in the country’s capital will soon come visiting towns and cities across the country. Urban planners in Northeast cities like Guwahati, Shillong, Itagar and Dimapur need to keep a close watch on how gasping Delhi is trying to clear its lungs.