It is quite odd that despite all data showing the odd-even policy was not going to – and did not – cut into Delhi’s pollution in anything but a marginal manner, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has decided to give it another shot, in April after the board examinations for schools in the capital get over, so that school buses can be seconded into public service. Not surprisingly, though the data showing two-wheelers cause more pollution than cars – of the 9% PM10 pollution that vehicles cause, according to the IIT-Kanpur study, trucks account for 46%, two-wheelers 33% and four-wheelers 10% – the chief minister has decided that they will once again be exempted from the drive; apart from the possibility that two-wheeler users could be a significant vote bank for the Aam Aadmi Party, providing alternative transport for so many more will choke up the metro and the bus support system and create a law and order situation.
Simple tabulation of data from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee done by this newspaper during the days the odd-even scheme was in force showed no significant reduction in pollution, indeed it even showed a rise in pollution. This was because pollution gets retained in the air by a variety of factors – higher wind or rain, for instance, disperses the pollution – and this is something a bald reading of the data cannot fix. Experts such as the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), however, do take this into account and, it said “while some reduction in air pollution is likely to happen due to odd-even scheme, a single factor or action cannot substantially reduce air pollution levels in Delhi”. That has been the experience in other cities where this experiment has been tried – after it becomes clear that the authorities plan to keep such restrictions in place, citizens start looking at alternatives like buying a second car or a two-wheeler to be able to commute in relative comfort. Many Kejriwal supporters have argued that since odd-even cuts congestion, it should be continued and, in any case, when there is less congestion, pollution levels automatically come down. The fact that it didn’t cut down pollution is, actually, proof of how little cars contribute to pollution; as for reducing congestion, this was never meant to be an anti-congestion scheme.
While this newspaper has been critical of efforts to get the courts to intervene in everything – the Delhi High Court did well to say it could not get into issues of ‘policy’ though the courts’ view on this has been inconsistent – at some point, the courts too may be forced to look at the data on the basis of which policy is made. Which is why the chief minister would do well to examine the facts before imposing his will on people. To get it wrong the first time around is excusable, but doing so for the second time is unpardonable.