Delhi on Day One: The Oddacity of Hope

How politics, duty, and some trust got together to flag off the odd-even.

Written by Apurva | New Delhi | Updated: January 2, 2016 4:29 am
odd even, delhi odd even rule, delhi odd even scheme, delhi odd even day 1, odd even violation, delhi pollution, delhi air pollution, delhi odd even news, delhi news, ncr news, india news, latest news A volunteer holds roses to be given to violators on the first day of the odd-even experiment, Friday. Not many roses were distributed, though. (Source: AP)

The new year began with a day for the odd. And an odd day as well. The usually unruly Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses stuck to a lane on the left, small bands of school children lined the roads with placards, civil defence volunteers stood at traffic junctions with flowers. There were visibly fewer cars on the road and for 12 hours, most of their licence plates ended with a 1, 3, 5, 7 or a 9.

READ: Made a difference to air quality? Too early to tell but first hopeful signs

Day One of the Delhi government’s environment intervention of the odd-even road-rationing policy kicked in at 8 am and two hours later, the beaming face of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said it all. “Delhi has done it! Reports so far v encouraging. Delhiites! U give me hope that U are capable of achieving big challenges,” he tweeted.

ALSO READ: Highlights of first day: We thank Delhi people for making Odd-even rule a success, says Kejriwal

A few hours later, Kejriwal took to Twitter again, this time with the opening lines of John Lennon’s Imagine: “You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only 1 I hope some day you’ll join us And the world will be as one.”

The start may have been lyrical but the Chief Minister knows that the true test will happen on Monday. Friday was January 1, a restricted government holiday and typically unhurried. It is expected to stay that way on the first even day on Saturday while Sundays are exempted from the policy.

Motorists at the ITO (New Delhi) undergo a Delhi government ODDEVEN trail run early thursday morning, during which the traffic policemen and Civil defense members managed the traffic and held out posters narrating about the traffic arrangments to be starting this new year. Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal New Delhi 311215 Motorists at the ITO (New Delhi) undergo a Delhi government Odd-even trail run earlyTthursday morning, during which the traffic policemen and Civil defense members managed the traffic and held out posters narrating about the traffic arrangements to be starting this new year. (Source: Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Come January 4, a Monday, and the force of the combined bureaucracy of the Union and Delhi governments, harried (and often late) office commuters and the backbone that carries Delhi’s thriving economy – services – will bear down on the capital’s roads, buses and metro.

To know, who are all exempt from the rule, watch this video.

But Monday morning blues could wait today, at least, as Delhi stood up to be counted, odd by odd. As The Indian Express found during a 278-km journey on car, by public transport and foot, covering six points where air pollution is monitored.

With few police pickets, little threat of penalty and an appeal to one’s conscience, Delhi had begun the fight against air pollution. Timewise snapshots:

8:30 am Karol Bagh: In an odd-numbered car

It takes just a few minutes to find a parking spot in what is arguably Delhi’s largest automobile spare parts market. In itself, this is perhaps a testament to the road-rationing policy. Ganesh Jha, who has serviced a municipal corporation parking lot here since 1995, gestures to both sides of the road. “You came and found parking. On any other day, you would have circled this area for an hour at least and finally paid Rs 100 to a tout to park your car,” he says.

What do people think about the Odd-Even formula? Watch this video.

As he speaks, another odd-numbered car drives into the parking lot. The driver, a shopkeeper who knows Jha well, smiles, steps out and asks, “How is this funny number system going?”

“Look, I do not have to take your keys to park. Put the car where you like,” Jha says.

Jha has few complaints but wants more policemen on duty. “I was told not to let even-numbered cars enter. I did and one of them threatened me. I cannot do this alone. It’s not worth my life,” he says.

10 am Shadipur: In an odd-numbered car

At a traffic light, six civil defence volunteers wait patiently for the lights to turn red. As soon as it does, a lanky volunteer, barely out of his teens, walks across the stop line. He is looking for violators and finds a Skoda right in front.

The volunteer walks to the front and stares at the driver. He pulls out a mobile phone, snaps off a shot and points an accusatory finger. The driver steps out to argue but turns to find that the volunteer had been joined by at least six others. Three are bigger than him. He jumps the red light, makes a quick U-turn and zooms away.

12:30 pm: Aboard the Green Line Metro towards Kirti Nagar

It’s more choked than usual is the refrain on this train. Vishal, a marketing executive, is on his first Metro ride. “I am an executive for a pharma company and need to travel more than 100 km a day across the city to see different doctors. I just graduated from a motorcycle to a car and this has happened,” he says. But you can’t sense any anger. His daughter Divya turns three this year. “She has some breathing issues, the doctor says. She coughs at night and catches a cold often. That’s why I bought a car. And now I am told it’s cars that cause this,” he says.

2 pm: On a cycle rickshaw towards the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS)

From the Jhilmil Metro station, it’s a nightmare crossing the road. The station is on the Grand Trunk Road and vehicles of all sizes and sources of power barrel unchecked towards the highway.

Ajit Singh is unfazed as he weaves across the traffic junction. “Today I only have to deal with buses and autos. Usually there are hundreds of cars on this road at this time and they have no respect for anybody. The bus drivers are government servants, they cannot kill you and the autos are too small. I have heard that cars are banned today. It’s a good thing, means more business for me. I want to move to an e-rickshaw now. My bones are old and I cannot keep cycling anymore,” Singh says.

4 pm: On foot in Anand Vihar

This is the most polluted hotspot in Delhi. For most of this month, it has stayed in the severe category on the Air Quality Index (AQI) and particulate matter levels here regularly shoot to 500 µg/m3 – the highest measurable. It also houses an inter state bus terminus and at any given time houses dozens of DTC buses.

As an air-conditioned DTC bus pulls into the station, a family of three ask to be let in. The driver refuses and a fight ensues that ends with the mother slapping the driver.

The driver refuses to identify himself but says, “I have been on the road for almost 10 hours now and have to stay in the bus lane from which I cannot stray but into which anybody else can drive. And this woman refused to understand I am parking the bus. Thank God for this strange odd-even whatever. At least half the cars are off the roads.”

6 pm: At the Kirti Nagar Metro station

The crowds are unprecedented again, according to the regular line users. A group of boys hog the space in front of the sliding doors. They hop out at each station and jump back in at the last moment.

“It’s because of this Kejriwal. No cars on the road so they are using the metro,” says one. “Who knows. Who will leave an AC car to come on this metro,” chimes another. Says a third, “It’s easy to spot first-time riders. They cling to their wallets, looking around as if everything is strange, and sit in the ladies compartment and get thrown out.”

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  1. Haradhan Mandal
    Jan 2, 2016 at 5:44 am
    The car (and the reckless driving styles of motorcycles(mainly) /scooters) is the biggest curse that 'liberalization' has brought in to India. Way back in 1990s - when I arrived in USA for the first time, the first thought that crossed my mind was what will happen to these countries (China and India and the planet Earth) - If China and India also become 'developed' like USA. Our learned Environment Minister says '42%(??!!) of all Indians are vegetarian and we (he did not say the %age) do Yoga' and hence we pollute the Earth the least!!!!
    1. K
      Jan 1, 2016 at 11:39 pm
      The crouching, dokhla-eating Gujjubhai whose chin touches his chest, is not educated. All he is qualified for is to sell chai and dokhla at the railway stations. Unfortunately 31% of Indians have elected the uneducated dokhla-eating Gujjubhai to a major role that he is not competent to have. As everyone knows, to hide his lack of education, he has appointed equally uneducated people to the cabinet positions. Now all that the crouching, dokhla-eating Gujjubhai whose chin touches his chest, wants is to take selfies with the goras. He runs after the goras for selfies. None of the prime ministers in our neighbourhood will run shamelessly after the goras for the selfies, since they are educated. Can it get any more disgusting?
      1. datharam gambhira
        Jan 2, 2016 at 2:42 am
        Its a dream Satish , a dream to see India as a safe, clean country to live in. where you have a roof over your head, earn enough to live good life justice is available to all not only to ones with money or loud voice. a country that does not distinguish between her citizens . needless to say with Congress it is impossible.
        1. datharam gambhira
          Jan 2, 2016 at 2:10 am
          utterly corrupt, self serving congress government kept winning for 60 years. they devided India in the name of religion and cast. filled hate and fear into each others mind. did absolutly nothing for integration of the nation. taught fabricated history in schools. kept people poor and uneducated to retain power. 0 education system : no one wants to go to government schools, schools not in sync with industry requirements, millions of graduates without proper jobs and and equal number of vacancies in industries requiring skilled workers. 0 health care system 0 access to justice. 0 governance yet for 60 years they continued to win. now in 1.5 years we have lost our patience How disgusting is that. 25% indians want the present government to fail, they do not want to extend their had in nation building. but continue to wirte meaning less things on line. How disgusting is that.
          1. datharam gambhira
            Jan 2, 2016 at 1:58 am
            yes plenty of things you comment for one is more discusting. its racist and clist. how bout victory of nitesh and lalu the inventor of cast based politics and gunda raaj. the murders have started again but not much coverage in media and intelengesia. How disgusting is that. after Indira imposed emergency suspended the rights of all citizens, jailled , tortured and killed oponents , Indians voted them to power. they are worshiped adn called symbols of hope and tolerance , How disgusting is that.
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