Delhi’s 25 million residents woke up in the new year crunching numbers as the Capital prepared to embark on a radical experiment for the next two weeks when residents will be allowed to drive their cars only on alternate days.
The much-hyped plan has dominated headlines and triggered political fights but on-the-ground implementation remain doubtful with the city’s police force fretting over “inadequate resources and time crunch” and a combative chief minister alleging the central government wanted the initiative to fail.
To clean the Capital’s toxic air, starting Friday, only odd-numbered private cars will be allowed on the road on odd dates and even-numbered on even days. Violators face a fine of Rs 2,000.
Around 3,000 more buses have been added to the existing DTC fleet of around 6,000, Delhi Metro service frequency has been cranked up and a fleet of around 80,000 cabs – swanky Ubers and ubiquitous Kaali Peelis – will jostle for space with another 80,000 autos.
Public transport is crucial to the success of the odd-even formula. Environmental activists say city’s inadequate transport system is one of the biggest reasons for its polluted air as people are forced to drive themselves around, pushing up vehicular emissions.
The run-up to January 1 has been marred by several instances of a roaring business in fake number plates, stickers to alter the last digit in keeping with the odd-even formula, ‘reversible’ plates and many more cheat options, as reported by Hindustan Times earlier this month.
A giant list of exemptions that not only includes a number of VIPs but also CNG vehicles and two-wheelers has also triggered doubts about whether the drive will be successful.
Events on New Year’s eve did little to ease people’s anxiety, many of who will have to find another mode of transport, perhaps car pool or jostle for space on buses and Metro.
Thursday started with the Delhi government accusing the Centre and its representative, lieutenant governor Nejeeb Jung, of orchestrating the “mass leave” by the city’s officials to derail the road-space rationing scheme.
Around 200 officials stayed away from work to protest the suspension of two colleagues penalised by the Kejriwal government for alleged insubordination. The Centre revoked the suspensions in the morning, triggering a war of words.
Delhi’s transport minister Gopal Rai alleged that some schools, which had volunteered their buses for the scheme, were being “pressured” into withdrawing their offer.
“Out of the 3,000 buses registered for the scheme, 1,800 are school buses offered voluntarily… When phone calls went to some of these schools, they complained they were being pressured not to provide their buses,” Rai said, without elaborating.
The government plans to deploy 3,000 additional buses to ensure that driving restrictions don’t inconvenience people. These buses will be in addition to 6,000 DTC and cluster buses that are already running in the city.
“Efforts were made to defeat the Anna and Janlokpal movement. But we succeeded because they became people’s movement. I request the city residents to follow the restrictions and convert this into another people’s movement,” Rai said.
With the launch of the plan coinciding with the New Year, traffic police said they would be stretched. “Our officers will be out manning the roads on New Year’s eve till 3am and they’ll have to be ready again before 8am for the odd-even,” said Muktesh Chander, special commissioner of police (traffic). They might face a crunch but were determined to make the campaign a success, he said.
There could be another problem. More than 40 students from various city schools are likely to be out on the streets to create “awareness”. The directorate of education Thursday asked some government schools to send at least 30-40 students.
Police red-flagged the proposal. Children on roads would be a safety hazard, Chander said. “On the first day of the odd-even rule when all the officers will be out making sure that there is no confusion on the roads we cannot be running after children. If any mishap happens who will be responsible?” he said.