In January 2016, when it was first introduced in Delhi, the phrase “shock measure” was widely used to describe odd-even in media coverage as well as policy circles. It was the national capital’s maiden tryst with the radical idea that one’s licence plate, or date in the calendar, could determine whether or not they can drive on roads.
Three years on, the novelty factor that defined the policy may have largely worn off, but Delhi, its authorities and people are gearing up for another round of the drive, scheduled from November 4-15.
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This time around, though, the policy has the force of law by virtue of being one of the measures enlisted under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to tackle pollution, which is implemented by the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority.
According to GRAP, odd-even should automatically come into force once air quality enters the ‘severe plus’ or ‘emergency’ zone and persists for 48 hours or more.
In this case, however, the Delhi government has announced the move as a preventive measure based on inputs that air quality may witness a drastic drop in the first week of November due to adverse meteorological conditions and stubble burning in neighbouring Haryana and Punjab.
The Indian Express spoke to departments and agencies entrusted with rolling out the initiative, attempting to piece together the measures being taken to ensure a smooth ride for Delhi during that period.
From issuing a gazette notification to keeping an eye out for violators, the lion’s share of the work related to odd-even lies with the Delhi government’s Transport Department.
The department, which operates out of a decades-old building complex in Civil Lines, also has to coordinate with other public transport operators, including the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and the Delhi Traffic Police.
Additionally, the department was directed by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to share its observations on categories that should be exempted from the scheme. Two of its recommendations have been accepted by the government, while one has been kept pending.
Vehicles driven by a lone woman or ones in which she has female co-passengers or children below 12 years of age will not have to follow licence-plate restrictions.
The department was initially in favour of exempting all categories of CNG vehicles as well. But the suggestion was tweaked at the last minute, bringing private CNG cars under the scheme’s ambit.
In fact, on October 9, Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL), which supplies CNG to over 10 lakh vehicles in Delhi-NCR through 500 stations, wrote to the government that “exempting CNG cars from the odd-even scheme would strengthen” the Delhi government’s anti-pollution action plan.
“CNG is a non-polluting fuel, most commonly known as clean fuel. The use of CNG as an automotive fuel results in significant reduction in the level of vehicular pollutants CO, HC, NOX, SOX, Pb and particulate matter. Additionally, its usage also results in reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases owing to the lower carbon-to-hydrogen ratio of methane as compared to other hydrocarbon fuels,” wrote a senior executive of IGL.
Moreover, at two separate meetings on September 23 and October 7 at the Delhi Secretariat, a decision was taken that IGL would procure 7 lakh tamper-proof holograms and distribute them among CNG vehicle owners from October 15 onwards at 70 fuel stations between 8 am and 10 pm. The IGL also hired an agency to maintain data, verify records and paste the holograms or stickers on the windshield of cars.
But on Saturday, Kejriwal announced that private CNG cars won’t be exempted during the odd-even drive, pointing out how the stickers were widely misused during the last two phases of the scheme in 2016. In its presentation to the government, IGL had stressed that it had taken special care to ensure non-duplication of stickers this time round.
“The CNG stickers are enabled with unigram technology, wherein the unique pattern showcased in the unigram line of the stickers can only be seen through specially made readers. IGL has procured around 1,000 such readers, which would be handed over to Delhi Police for random checking. The stickers will also be visible from a distance. All the stickers are embedded with unique numbers.
“IGL is also developing an app where a database of all vehicles with these stickers would be maintained. Records can be fetched by punching in the numbers on the stickers. The app would also be shared with police,” IGL wrote.
The question of two-wheelers and the department’s categorical suggestion on not exempting these have put the government in a quandary — mainly because it clearly pointed out that exempting two-wheelers, which form 88% of the city’s vehicular fleet, will seriously undermine the potential benefits that may arise out of the scheme.
Kejriwal concurred with the department’s view, but also conceded that the existing public transport infrastructure, mainly in terms of buses, is inadequate to meet the demand that is likely to be triggered if restrictions are imposed on the plying of around 65 lakh two-wheelers.
However, the government has, in principle, accepted the suggestion to go for staggered working hours in offices.
The corporation will engage 2,000 private buses during the odd-even period. The DIMTS, under which the orange cluster buses come, has been asked to ensure “optimum utilisation of its fleet”. The city’s public bus fleet stands at around 5,500, well under the requirement of 11,000.
Around 2,000 buses are at various stages of procurement. However, Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot said that apart from the 25 cluster buses inducted in August, the city is not likely to get more than 100 before odd-even comes into effect. A week before that, on October 29, the free rides scheme for women on DTC buses will be implemented, which will increase the challenge of meeting the expected commuter rush.
Gahlot said private buses will be hired at a fixed rate of Rs 50 per km. During the first phase of odd-even, as many as 6,000 private buses, with ‘Paryavaran Bus Sewa’ stickers pasted on them, were pressed into service. This included around 600 DTC buses on school duty as winter holidays were on at that point. However, school buses could not be roped in in the second phase of odd-even in April 2016. Around 600 buses were eventually hired then.
Meanwhile, directions have also been issued to the DTC to enhance its helpline staff and teams to monitor breakdowns.
The Delhi Metro will run 60 additional trips daily to cater to demand during the odd-even period. The corporation has also been directed to press more feeder buses into service to bolster last-mile connectivity.
Officials also pointed out that the Metro network in 2016 was barely 214 km long. The major Phase III corridors, including the 58-km Pink and the 38-km Magenta lines, were far from being operationalised. Today, the total length of the DMRC network is around 377 km, spanning Delhi and parts of Gurgaon, Noida, Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Bahadurgarh. DMRC will also deploy additional staff, including customer facilitation agents and TVM operators, especially during office hours.
The government plans to install 20 big hoardings at 13 major entry points of the city. Ten each of these hoardings will be placed inside and outside Delhi’s borders. In total, around 360 hoardings will be put up across the 127 entry points of Delhi, according to an official document.
“The awareness campaign shall also include neighbouring states and more emphasis is to be given to vehicles entering Delhi from neighbouring states. Advisories will also be issued for use of Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways by non-destined vehicles during the drive,” it adds.
Among other measures, the government has directed cab aggregators to desist from implementing surge pricing during the duration of odd-even. Around 5,075 civil defence volunteers will be stationed at 200 locations across the city like last time to appeal to drivers to turn back if found violating the policy. Field functionaries have been directed to be polite and careful towards persons with varying degrees of disabilities.