AT 8 am on the first day of the new year, Delhi flagged off its pioneering 15-day pilot odd-even plan to curb the record levels of pollution clogging its air by restricting the number of cars allowed to ply on its roads to the last digits of their registration plates.
On January 1, only cars with registration numbers ending in odd digits were allowed on the capital’s roads, with the government declaring the opening day of the scheme as an overwhelming success.
The “self-regulation” observed by private motorists appeared to have taken the Delhi administration by surprise, with PWD and health minister Satyendar Jain saying that less than 1% violations were reported on Friday.
Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said, “By and large, the people of Delhi have accepted the anti-pollution drive with an open mind. This can happen only when something becomes a people’s movement. I am truly overwhelmed by the response. The people of Delhi are terrific. They have achieved the impossible and I am hopeful that Delhi will scale greater heights in the days to come. Delhi will lead the way.”
Later in the day, Kejriwal tweeted, “John Lennon ‘You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only 1 I hope some day you’ll join us And the world will be as one’ #IamWithOddEven.”
The CM carpooled to work, giving transport minister Gopal Rai and Jain a ride to the Delhi Secretariat in his Innova numbered 0001.
The Delhi government claimed pollution levels had reduced across stations, but experts pointed out that the dip was only seen till first half of the day in many stations.
A combination of weather factors and emissions probably led to a spike in the second half, experts said.
“Maybe the drop in pollution level was little. But when two cars ply instead of four, however little it may be, there will be a drop,” said Rai.
Rai, who was responsible for augmenting public transport during the pilot phase, took a two-hour ride in a Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus, asking the driver to stop outside the BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road to check the number of the cars parked outside. “They were all odd numbers,” he said.
While the government did not hesitate to term Day One a “success”, it admitted that the holiday season may have been a contributor to the smooth sailing traffic and less-than-packed Metros. The real test of the drive, the administration agreed, would be on January 4, the first working Monday of the year.
“This is not a political tussle. Those who have abided by it today will tell others to follow on Monday,” said Rai.
Until 5 pm on Friday, the traffic police had issued 81 challans for odd-even violations while the Delhi government’s transport department officials had issued 36.
“Of the 4,500 buses we have, 4,120 buses were deployed. Of the 3,000 private buses registered, 1,221 turned up today,” DTC PRO RS Minhas said.
Some private schools moved court protesting against the circular issued by the Delhi government asking them to shift their winter break timings and provide their buses for commercial public use in the odd-even fortnight. “Most of the school buses did not turn up today,” Minhas said. However, there was low commuter traffic on buses across the city on Friday.
Over 200 challans were issued to autorickshaw drivers who refused fare or harassed passengers, Rai said.
The Delhi Metro, too, prepared to take in additional passenger load, and the crowd was manageable with several offices being closed for the day. Passenger traffic remained thin during the first half of the day and grew later in the evening, particularly near tourist destinations like Qutub Minar, INA and Rajiv Chowk. Delhi Metro officials said the crowd is likely to pick up on weekdays.
The World Health Organisation had last year named Delhi, with an estimated 7.5 million registered vehicles, as the world’s most polluted city.