Almost four years after it was first implemented in Delhi, the odd-even scheme will make a comeback in the city. Last week, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that the road rationing scheme will be a part of a seven-point programme to combat pollution from November 4 to 15. The scheme, that will be implemented a week after Diwali, when Delhi’s air is at its worst — the post-festival pollution combines with the smog from stubble burning in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, and particulate matter from tailpipes of vehicles. In the last three years, the Delhi government and the agencies responsible for managing the city’s environment resorted to knee-jerk reactions, which did very little to improve the city’s air quality. The AAP government’s decision to have a pollution-management plan in place nearly two months before the acrid smog hits the city is a welcome departure from the past.
The road rationing scheme allows vehicles to ply on alternate days, depending on odd and even number plates. It was introduced in January 2016, as a desperate measure of sorts after the Delhi High Court described the city as a gas chamber and asked the state government to submit a time-bound plan to mend matters. In response, the AAP government implemented the road-rationing scheme for 15 days in 2016 — from January 1 to 15 and then, from April 15 to 30. An ugly squabble between the Delhi government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) came in the way of its implementation after Diwali in 2017. The NGT contended that any relaxation would come in the way of improving the city’s air quality while the government wanted exemptions for two-wheelers. The government had argued then that Delhi’s public transport wasn’t equipped to handle the fallout of extending road-rationing to two-wheelers. The government has not talked about exemptions as yet. It has nearly two months to iron out glitches and sort out potential differences that could come in the way of the smooth implementation of the plan. More importantly, it needs to ensure that the city’s public transport system is able to meet the needs of commuters on days when their vehicles will be off the roads.
In itself, the odd-even scheme is no magic bullet to clean up Delhi’s bad air. But the good news is that the AAP government envisages road rationing as a part of a bouquet of pollution-control measures. It has also initiated a welcome conversation on Delhi’s annual tryst with bad air well before it engulfs the city.