The Delhi government, earlier this year, started a road-rationing programme called the Odd-Even scheme. Phase-1 was from January 1-15, and phase-2 is going on (April 15-30). The scheme has been implemented with the hope that it would significantly reduce the city’s air pollution. The moot question is, whether it has?
The evaluation studies done by several reputed organisations—Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), SAFAR, IIT Kanpur, Teri, CSE and IIT Delhi—are conflicting and, thus, confusing. It has not been proved conclusively that the scheme did reduce air pollution. Different weather conditions on different days made the impact more difficult to gauge. Our inference is not going to be any different at the end of phase-2, according to research institutions. So, what should be the right strategy to combat air pollution?
Researchers have found that the entire fleet of vehicular traffic in Delhi is responsible for emitting only 9% of PM2.5 and 20% of PM10 particles, in addition to 36% nitrogen oxide. The major portion of 36% PM2.5 and 66% PM10 comes from dust produced by construction activities, road cleaning and by burning biomass in and around Delhi. The industrial stack emits a significant 10% each of PM2.5 and PM10, and 52% nitrogen oxide. Passenger cars contribute only 9% of total vehicular emissions while two-wheelers—exempted from the scheme—contribute 60% to air pollution. It has been estimated by CPCB that reduction in PM2.5, PM10 and nitrogen oxide were 0.28%, 0.65% and 1.86%, respectively, after phase-1, which is modest.
Analysis of data during phase-1 shows there was a reduction of about 20% in the number of cars on roads, but this slight advantage has been offset by the increase of up to 26% per hour flow in two-wheelers and up to 16% increase in buses. It is interesting to note that the reduction in the number of cars on the roads during phase-2 is less as compared to phase-1, and people are in the process of buying a second car. This suggests that Odd-Even did not serve the cause of either reducing air pollution or decongestion. Delhi government can, at best, be credited for creating awareness about the city’s deadly air.
It is evident that the government has to adopt a different strategy to combat air pollution. We can learn from global examples—such as Beijing (where closest comparison can be made), Mexico City and Bogota (Columbia).
First, the surface public transport system need to be augmented to 12-13,000 buses; currently it is 5,000. This would require a large funding, but sources have to be found out. Beijing, for instance, has increased its expenditure on public transport from 18% to 59% over the years. Buses should be more comfortable and well-maintained, to attract the well-heeled Delhiites. This need be done in about three years, with all urgency. Simultaneously, there has to be an increase in metro-rail network. The government should promote car pooling by taxi aggregators by providing suitable incentives in matter of fixing fares. To encourage the use of bicycles, dedicated tracks are needed. Our footpaths have to be properly paved and kept free from encroachments. It should be made mandatory for all schoolchildren to use only school buses and not cars; currently, about 50% schoolchildren in Delhi commute via private cars. Mexico City has started a ‘Scholar Bus’ campaign, making it compulsory for students to use school buses. Such steps would automatically reduce the use of private cars/taxis and two- and three-wheelers. Since we are laying great emphasis on the use of public transport, it is essential that the central government ensures the availability of BS-5 or BS-6 norms compliant buses and other vehicles within the stipulated time-frame.
Considering the success of Bogota’s 112-km-long BRTS, the same can be adopted in Delhi, provided the three basic features of a BRTS—flexibility, accessibility and cost-effectiveness—are fulfilled. The Delhi government is thinking of an elevated BRTS corridor, which clearly can’t meet these requirements. The government must get its concept right, as the memories of our failed BRTS still haunts us.
Second, DPCC should impose heavy fines, say R50,000 per day, on construction companies for non-compliance of dust control measures as recommended by NGT, and order closure of such activities if violations continue.
Simultaneously, vacuum-cleaning of all PWD roads should be started. It has been seen that plantation around footpaths and roads can also mitigate dust.
Third, biomass burning should be stopped. We can develop an app for complaints against waste burning and polluting vehicles.
Fourth, all MCD parking lots made on PWD roads should be removed and the government should seek land from DDA at nominal rates for parking trucks/buses. Bus lanes need to be properly demarcated and cleared of all encroachments. At the same time, potholes need to be repaired as they lead to traffic jams and hence more pollution.
Fifth, although Rajghat Power Station has been closed, but there has to be action on closure of Dadri plant. Flyash from Badarpur plant has to be managed.
Sixth, industrial units in and around Delhi have failed to control their emissions. They should be fined for violating environmental laws.
The objective of cleaning Delhi’s toxic air can only be realised by expeditiously implementing all the measures suggested above and not by resorting to Odd-Even scheme again. The task is doable, given the desired political will.
The author is former director, CSO (ISS), and UN Consultant email@example.com