On 1st January 2016, the Delhi Government decided to implement the odd-even formula on a trial basis for a span of 15 days. Even though this was an optimistic policy, it encountered its fair share of naysayers.
Now that the dust has settled (literally), let’s get a clear understanding of the policy:
In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that New Delhi was the world’s most polluted city. This became way too real for Delhiites in the latter half of 2015 when smog covered most of the city, making visibility as low as 100 meters. The Delhi High Court even said that living in Delhi was like “living in a gas chamber”.
The AAP government tried various solutions to reduce the increasing threat from pollution. An environmental tax was levied on trucks and they could pass through the city only at certain times. Further, even diesel vehicles were banned. But these measures were not enough to curb the pollution, something more drastic needed to be done. That’s when the government thought of implementing the odd-even formula.
On 25th December, Delhi’s AAP government introduced a new plan to reduce pollution and traffic congestion by limiting the number of private vehicles on the road.
For a 15-day trial period, odd numbered vehicles were only allowed on the road on odd numbered days and even numbered cars on even days. Since this road-rotation formula has been successful in many other parts of the world like Beijing, Paris, Mexico and Bogota, this policy held promise for Delhi as well.
However, this rule came with a set of exceptions. For instance, two wheelers, CNG-driven buses, taxis, auto-rickshaws and emergency vehicles were not included. Women drivers commuting alone or with other women were exempt from the rule, and the policy would only apply from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
A committee comprising of members from environment department, traffic police, transport department and the divisional commissioner was appointed to decide how the policy would be implemented. Coordination exercises were held for a few days before the official start of the policy the examine the plan.
Those caught violating the scheme have to pay a penalty of Rs 2000. To ensure strict implementation of the scheme as many as 200 teams of traffic police, 66 enforcement teams of the transport department and 40 teams of sub-divisional magistrates were deployed across the city. Volunteers also signed up to help the authorities with the implementation of the rule. Public transport was also augmented; an additional 3,000 buses were deployed in the city while the metro ran an additional 70 trips.
Most of the debate surrounding the rule was related to the exemptions. Firstly, two-wheelers are believed to be more polluting than private cars, but however, they were exempt from the rule. Secondly, the rule had been implemented without any detailed study on whether or not it was going to be an effective policy. Thirdly, the rule was enforced without seeking public opinion on the matter.
Meanwhile, the BJP and the Congress failed to provide a counter narrative in the matter, keeping the political discourse on the subject to a minimum and allowed for a controversy-free implementation of the rule.
Ever since the conclusion of the trial, various media houses and government agencies are attempting to gauge the results of the policy and see if it has really reduced pollution in the city or not. However, there isn’t and cannot be a conclusive answer as pollution depends on various factors. Further, a span of 15 days is not enough to observe and analyse a definite change.
Still, one report comparing the pollution between Delhi and NCR did calculate a reduction of around 10-13%. Apart from the environmental change, the biggest change noted was a cultural change. The cooperation that government received from the public was indeed commendable. Violators were very few and people took to carpooling and public transport rather than malpractice when the policy was in force. This showed that the public felt like they had a stake in the formula. Additionally, there was a considerable change in traffic congestion as well.
Even though the trial is over, the buzz surrounding it is not. It is believed that the policy could be back for round 2 in a few months. However, this will only be after the completion of the CBSE Board exams in March-April and after the government cracks down few kinks like the possibility of people buying a second car to dodge the rule or malpractices like forged number plates.
At the same time, the government will have to increase the public transport sector as well as advance the standards of existing public transport. Meanwhile, the AAP government is also trying to crowd source other ideas to reduce pollution in the city, in case the odd even policy doesn’t see light again.