The controversial and much-talked about odd-even rule imposed by the Delhi government to control vehicular pollution ends today. The policy was introduced by the Aam Aadmi Party government for a trial phase of 15 days as a measure to take a swipe at rising air pollution levels and smog in the national capital.
According to the rule, cars with even-numbered registration plates will ply on even dates while those with odd license plates will ply on odd dates. Two-wheelers, cars driven by women, cars with differently-abled persons and those of VIP, VVIP such as PM, President, Chief Justice, CJI and CMs of states and union territories were exempted by the rule.
Overall, the rule was a success in terms of reducing congestion and traffic on the roads, but there has been no definitive answer on whether pollution levels indeed came down during the period. The state government, unsurprisingly, hailed the policy and said it led to drastic reduction of PM 2.5 levels in the interior areas of Delhi. However, on several days, pollution boards installed at several places in the city showed no significant reduction in pollution levels.
Delhi Transport Minister Gopal Rai has said that the odd-even rule will be back in Delhi for a second phase, the details of which will be discussed in a review meeting with CM Arvind Kejriwal. The government and the ruling party has maintained that the rule led to substantial reduction of pollution levels. Senior AAP leader Ashish Khetan said the government must come with a well thought-out policy decision that should be kept in public domain first. He also said the policy must be implemented in the winter months when smog levels in Delhi regularly soar. Rai has said that Rs 1.5 crore generated in the form of challans in a fortnight will be used for subsidies to buy cycles for commuters.
Through the last 15 days, there have been a lot of violations, but nothing on the scale that was initially expected. The violators fell into barely a few hundreds, when the number of cars on the roads of Delhi have been to the tune of lakhs. Perhaps, it’s the fine – as hefty as Rs 2,000 – that’s keeping people away from violating the rule. The first offender in the rule was a young man challaned by the Delhi police at the ITO intersection. He said he was heading for office, and that there was no other form of transportation he could take. Perhaps the highest number of challans issued was on the ninth day when 875 people were fined by the Delhi Police.
Days before the rule came into effect, Kejriwal said hordes of civil defence volunteers (yes, that’s what they called themselves) would be out on the streets to spread awareness and dissuade people about the rule. Nagma Abbasi was one of nearly 5,700 volunteers deployed to tell violators about the rule in order to bring about discipline. Dressed in fluorescent jackets and holding placards and roses, they would politely tell violators not to take their cars out. The volunteers assisted traffic police and even told the violators how pollution makes an impact on them and their children.
Midway into the implementation of the scheme, the Delhi High Court, while responding to a clutch of petitions, asked the government why the plan was being run for 15 days when it could be finished in 8 days. The HC bench noted that the restrictions on the number of cars was causing the public inconvenience. The court also asked the government to submit data on daily pollution levels between January 1-7 and to check whether pollution levels had indeed come down during the trial phase. Eight separate PILs questioning various facets of the policy were filed before the court.
The Delhi Metro, considered the lifeline of the national capital, was widely said to take the brunt of the odd-even policy as a substantial chunk of people would make a transition from their private cars to the Metro. But withstanding all odds, the Metro did not face any stampede-like situation. On January 5, the first Monday to come under the rule, DMRC said it recorded a 11 percent increase in ridership over the previous week. Much before the implementation of the rule, Metro officials promised increase in the number of trips and more manpower at the stations. Even though there were longer queues at peak hours, officials did not have to face major hurdles.
‘Will of people’
But most importantly, a pattern that was quite discernable over the last 15 days was the so-called ‘will of people’ to cooperate with the government policy and work towards a pollution-free Delhi. On social media, activists, environmentalists and political leaders hailed the people’s commitment to discard their cars and use public transportation. Even though there were cries that there would be large-scale rigging of license plates and reluctance to follow rules, nothing of such sort has happened. Though ambiguity remains on whether pollution levels have come down, there is absolute unanimity that Delhi roads were free of traffic and congestion during the 15-day phase. Twitter was routinely updated with photographs showing empty roads that on other days would have been flooded with cars.
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