ENVIRONMENTAL activists and concerned citizens alike have welcomed the Aam Aadmi Party government’s “odd-even formula” to restrict vehicular traffic on Delhi’s roads as a mechanism for reducing air pollution. It comes close on the heels of a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court banning further registration of luxury vehicles and SUVs in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) until March 2016 and the Delhi High Court observing that air pollution in the city was of an “emergency nature”.
The new system, which came into effect on January 1, will be in place on a trial basis for 15 days, with vehicles bearing odd numbers plying on odd dates and those with even numbers on even dates. This method, widely known as the road-space rationing method, has been used temporarily in Beijing and Paris. CNG-driven buses, taxis, autorickshaws, two-wheelers, single-woman driven cars and emergency vehicles are exempted from this requirement. The formula will also apply to automobiles entering Delhi from other States. This move, though criticised by some citizens as one that could lead to chaos, comes against the backdrop of a number of expert reports raising concern about the alarming levels of pollution in Delhi.
The Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) welcomed the odd-even formula.
Anumita Roy Chowdhury, its executive director, said: “With traffic volumes halved, bus services can be augmented. Moreover, additional buses, pooling and sharing of two-wheelers and cars will further improve the overall carrying capacity of the available fleet. This is an opportunity in the city to create and test out the plan for augmented public transport services that can be sustained even after the programme is over.”
The CSE, however, expressed disappointment at the range of exemptions given under the proposed formula, especially to two-wheelers. According to CSE estimates, two-wheelers contribute to as much as 31 per cent of the total particulate load from vehicles.
A study titled “Source Apportionment Study of PM2.5 and PM10”, conducted by Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, had given substantive evidence of pollution caused by diesel cars in Delhi.
It showed that about 70 per cent of the particulate matter came from diesel cars across Delhi. (PM2.5 is particulate matter 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter.)
The IIT study offered several suggestions for cleaning the city, such as vacuum sweeping four times a month, prohibiting the use of coal, and replacing three-wheelers and four-wheelers with electric and hybrid technology vehicles.
Both the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court have been sympathetic to the environmental cause.
In fact, the Delhi High Court, in an ongoing case, has pointed out several other concerns relating to environmental pollution and governance. On December 21, a bench of Justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Sanjeev Sachdeva of the High Court observed that the level of pollution in the national capital was of an “emergency nature”.
It also said that specific legislation and statutory rules that were in place to ensure that ambient air quality was maintained were not being followed.
These enactments include the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, and the National Capital Regional Planning Board Act, 1985.
The High Court also came down on the Centre for not stating what steps had been taken under the National Capital Region Planning Board Act, 1985, in dealing with pollution-related issues in the NCR.
The court also asked the Centre to spell out an action plan to deal with environmental degradation as a result of construction activities in the region.
The court noted that the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee were entrusted with the task of ensuring that environmental laws with respect to pollution were followed.
But the inordinate levels of pollution indicated that this had not worked in practice, it said. For instance, the permissible norm for PM10 is 100 micrograms per cubic metre and 60 micrograms for PM2.5.
But the monitoring stations of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee showed that the readings were far in excess of 400-500 micrograms per cubic metre in both cases.
The court also instructed the State government and the municipal corporations of Delhi to publicise through radio, television and print media that burning of leaves, garbage, plastic and rubber in the open was prohibited.
More recently, on December 30, the Delhi High Court asked the Centre why some vehicles and two-wheelers were being exempted under the odd-even formula.