I used to believe that issues of climate and environment were matters of intellectual sophistry for the English-speaking elite and that the common man was preoccupied with more important things. But today, I must admit I was wrong. In the recent past, no issue has dominated public consciousness as much as the Odd-Even formula (Road Space rationing, as it is otherwise known) announced by the AAP government in Delhi to deal with the "environment emergency" after the Delhi High Court observed that the national capital has turned into a "gas chamber". Suddenly, everyone is talking about it. Even MPs are seen wearing masks.
There is no denying the fact that pollution in Delhi has crossed dangerous levels and it needs to be dealt with on an urgent basis. The World Health Organization has declared Delhi the most polluted city in the list of 160 global cities in 2014. A bitter, poisonous haze can be seen on the horizon of the national capital, and it's getting dense as winter sets in. In this context, the Delhi Government's announcement to ban motorised vehicles whose last digit is odd or even on alternate days is a step forward. This means cutting down the numbers of vehicles to half on any given day. This is a new experiment in India so it has attracted undue attention and manifold concerns. A large number of people are anxious. This anxiety can be clubbed into four categories.
- What will happen if there is a medical emergency on a day when the licence number is banned on the road?
- What about differently abled persons who have their own vehicles? How will they commute if their vehicle is banned on alternate days? This is a class of people who will find it very difficult to use public transport as facilities for them are almost negligible in the city, unlike in developed countries.\
- What about working women who drive their own cars and work till late at night? How will they manage on days they cannot go in their cars? Will their safety not be compromised and would it not discourage them from working late?
- The very serious concerns of parents who prefer not to use school buses and local autos but their own vehicles to ferry their kids to schools
These are all genuine concerns and should be addressed adequately. I also admit that there is a fair amount of confusion that has been compounded by statements from the Opposition. Let me assure you all, as a representative of the AAP, that at first, no final decision has been taken about the modalities, only a policy decision regarding intent and the date of actual implementation has been announced. Second, to roll out the plan a three-member committee comprising a Principle Secretary (Traffic), Secretary (Environment) and Secretary (Revenue), has been formed. This committee will talk to all the stakeholders, collect all their suggestions, recommendations and ideas and then sit down to give final shape to the modalities to implement the formula.
So, I would advise everyone to not panic. Wait for the final plan; and only then react accordingly. Even after that proposal, if a few infirmities still exist, they will certainly be addressed. The review will happen after two weeks and changes will be made to accommodate the concerns accordingly.
Let me reiterate that while this is a new proposal in India, it has been successfully implemented across the globe. Very recently, it was experimented with in Paris and Beijing. Cities like Mexico City, Bogotá, Santiago, Sao Paolo, London, Athens, Singapore, Tehran, San José, La Paz etc. have all implemented this formula. The important thing is it should not be assumed that it is in existence for all 365 days of the year. It is used as an emergency provision and accordingly implemented as per requirement. Meanwhile, other measures have to be implemented to curb pollution like drastically improving the public transport system, shutting down polluting industries, killing polluting vehicles, and discouraging citizens from using private cars.
In Bogotá, Colombia, it is in practice twice a week. In Sao Paolo, Brazil, this practice has been in existence since 1997, and in Beijing it is implemented once a week. It was only during the Olympic Games in 2008 that the Chinese government stretched it to two months. Citizens were compensated with a three-month vehicular tax exemption.
Each city has a different model. Athens has divided its geography into two zones - inner and outer zones; the entire city is monitored round the clock from the point of view of pollution. As pollution touches the danger mark, an emergency is declared, and an announcement of formula enforcement is made on radio, TV and public broadcast systems. The inner zone is then sanitised of all the private vehicles; taxies are allowed to run only as per the odd-even formula. In the outer zone, taxis run as usual, but private vehicles ply according to odd-even numbers.
In some cities, it is enforced throughout the day while in others it's only during peak traffic hours (8.30 AM to 10.30 AM and 5.30 PM to 7.30 PM). Some propagandists have created a scare that the odd-even number will be applied round the clock; that is not true. In Paris, which can be considered the most stringent, it is in existence from 5.30 AM to 11.30 PM. Other cities also have similar rules.
Cities like London and Stockholm have followed a different path to curb pollution along with strengthening their mass transport system. It's called the LEZ (low emission zones) model. Such cities convert their city centres into zones where vehicles that pollute beyond a level are totally banned and very heavy fines are imposed on violators; constant encouragement is given to upgrade vehicle quality from the perspective of pollution. London also levies very heavy parking charges in such areas. Earlier, it used to charge £5, which has been increased to £10 per hour. London has earned more than £2 billion, which it has invested further in transport-related facilities.
Similarly, Singapore has devised a car licence and space licence system. To buy a car in Singapore, a person also has to purchase a license to own a car. This is sometimes more costly than the car itself. Additionally, one has to pay exorbitant amounts of money to enter a particular area. Beijing has a car purchase registration system, which is a lottery system that ensures that only a particular number of cars ply on the roads.
Delhi is also following suit, but to make Delhi more environment friendly it has to learn some lessons from other successful models globally. There are different methods to discourage usage of motorised vehicles on the roads. The Odd-Even formula is just one effective way in emergency situations. I hope a new beginning is made that is bold in content but beautiful in its ambition. So let's make this bold and beautiful move a success; it's only possible if we the citizens of Delhi decide to make certain adjustments in life to make our future better. Let's do it!!!
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- Sustainable transport
- Mexico City
- car licence
- La Paz
- Sao Paolo
- car purchase registration system