After two spells of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s ‘odd-even’ experiment—odd-numbered cars were allowed to ply on odd-dates—and even the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) ban on 2,000cc+ diesel vehicles failed to fix Delhi’s pollution, it is just as well that NGT has asked Kejriwal to meet with other regulatory bodies and come up with a better solution.That the odd-even experiment was going to fail was obvious once the IIT-Kanpur report pointed out that while vehicles accounted for 9% of Delhi’s PM10 emissions—and 20% in the case of PM2.5—four-wheelers accounted for just a tenth of this. Indeed, while Kejriwal found it politically difficult to impose this on two-wheelers, the fact is they presented a greater problem given many more two-wheelers are sold. Ditto for the NGT ban on large diesel vehicles since 70-80% of diesel vehicles sold are in the lower engine-size segments.
Now that this bout of populism seems to be over after the Central Pollution Control Board’s statement to the NGT, it is important to keep in mind there is no quick solution to Delhi’s problems. The pollution caused by trucks has reduced following the imposition of a green cess, but the real difference will come only once the eastern and western peripheral expressways around the capital get built. Similarly, while the Centre has finally redressed part of the huge diesel-petrol imbalance by eliminating the subsidies on diesel—the huge subsidy resulted in diesel cars rising from under 5% of total sales in 1998 to around 60% by 2013—more needs to be done by the Centre as well as the states. While the Centre charges a lower excise duty on diesel, states like Delhi do the same for VAT—both need to be addressed since, together, they give diesel a R13-14 per litre advantage. And while Kejriwal implemented one part of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) plan—that of odd-even—he didn’t do anything on the more important parts of that. CSE has been a big proponent of more buses using Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) corridors but Kejriwal demolished even the existing one instead of adding more BRT lanes. Little progress has been made in increasing the number of buses which is critical to reduction pollution levels—Delhi has around 6,500 buses while it needs around double that number. Indeed, while cars costing R4-6 lakh pay a road tax of around R1,300 per year, buses end up paying around R17,000, which is odd considering buses are far more environment-friendly and are used by the less well-heeled. It is these solutions, with firm time-lines, that the chief minister needs to present to the NGT.