February 13, 2016 12:22:23 am
After pondering masses of data that are actually imponderable, Delhi’s AAP government proposes to bring back the odd-even scheme for a fortnight in April. A city tired of sitting about in sooty traffic jams is unlikely to feel imposed upon. A new public attitude was the biggest achievement of the first phase in January, which changed the rubric of the problems of pollution and road congestion that the capital has been grappling with. Pollution control in India was initially propelled forward by the courts, which forced government to develop agencies and standards. But after odd-even, pollution is no longer even the government’s problem. The citizen is willingly coming forward to take on the role of a stakeholder.
The debate about the success of the scheme has focused on pollution data, which is open to multiple readings. It is not very meaningful, either, for the government to claim that over 80 per cent of respondents of a survey support the scheme, since we know nothing of their economic profile, which might indicate their motives and compulsions. The AAP government can afford to focus on the politics, instead, since the scheme has succeeded in making pollution a political issue. In fact, its soft, inclusive approach — red roses for offenders instead of punitive measures — has made the scheme much more compelling than the substantially funded and furbished Swachh Bharat campaign.
But while attitudinal reform is most welcome, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal may wish to reconsider its pace. Reformist politics in India is frequently resisted because reforms are hurried through and systems catch up afterwards. The last big push against pollution before the odd-even scheme, the conversion of commercial vehicles to CNG, was deadlined by the courts when there were almost no gas stations. The lifestyle changes that pollution control requires should be secured as painlessly as possible. The Delhi government hopes to induct new buses by May — it could have deferred the scheme until then. The chief minister has also indicated the possibility that once the public transport system is broadened with a tiered BRT system and a much larger bus fleet, the scheme could be in force every month. He would be well advised to give due weightage to the conditional clause. His government has done the near-impossible, gaining acceptability for traffic curbs in a city which used to regard the right to drive as absolute. Delhi stands a fighting chance of ceasing to be the country’s pollution capital. Kejriwal cannot run the risk of losing the goodwill that oils the wheels of the odd-even scheme by institutionalising it before its time.
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