Delhi’s unbreathable air, with particulate matter levels more than four times permissible levels in 22 of November’s 30 days, certainly calls for emergency measures. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s odd-even scheme, whereby odd-numbered cars can only be used on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, has Delhi-ites rushing for cover — ride-sharing provider BlaBlaCar, for instance, is reporting 300-400 people registering for its service already and country manager Raghav Gupta expects a significant pick up over the next few weeks.
While the odd-even scheme is one of the emergency recommendations of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), ironically, Kejriwal has junked the most important part of the CSE’s plan to fix Delhi’s environment — that of making the vastly polluting diesel more costly and of encouraging people to use buses by both lowering road taxes on them as well as by extending, and fixing, the bus rapid transport corridor that was meant to help increase bus speeds.
Right now, the VAT on diesel levied by the Delhi government is just 55% that on petrol and the vastly more carbon-friendly buses end up paying 13-14 times more road tax each year.
A comprehensive solution to Delhi’s pollution mess, however, cannot take place till the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways are built so that trucks — they account for 15% of the capital’s pollution — bypass Delhi; and till the central government decides to hike excise duties on diesel cars/fuel to reverse the rampant dieselisation of the last few decades. Most important, the Centre needs to move quickly to more stringent fuel norms that reduce diesel pollution levels to close to those of petrol engines — right now, diesel can legally emit 7.5 times more particulate matter than petrol — and to levy a cess on diesel to fund the upgrading of refineries for this.
(With inputs from Hita Gupta)