Delhi rang in the New Year with a radical vehicle rationing measure aimed at cleaning up the capital’s toxic air though chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the odd-even formula could not be a permanent measure to solve the city’s pollution woes.
Nearly a million vehicles are estimated to have stayed parked on the first day of the 15-day trial period of the scheme that allows odd and even-numbered private vehicles to ply on alternate days in the city where pollution levels have consistently shot past WHO safety levels this winter.
However, Friday’s pollution levels – compared to earlier days – were not yet available, an AFP report said the US embassy figures put particulate matter levels well above the WHO safe limit of 60.
Though traffic movement on the usually clogged city streets appeared smooth on Friday, officials said the scheme’s success – or failure – could be gauged properly only from Monday when many offices reopen after the year-end holidays. The government has also closed down all schools till January 15 to deploy school buses for public transport.
Kejriwal termed the scheme’s debut a success but added that it could not be implemented indefinitely in the city of 25 million.
“It is not possible to implement the scheme permanently,” Kejriwal told CNN-IBN. “These weapons are used on temporary basis to curb dangerous levels of pollution.”
Kejriwal, who carpooled with transport minister Gopal Rai and health minister Satyendra Jain to the Secretariat on Friday morning, said he was “overwhelmed” by the response of people towards the scheme.
He said the people of Delhi accepted the scheme “whole-heartedly”.
Transport minister Rai also travelled by bus to take stock of the implementation of the formula.
“Met all challenges so far, we were wondering whether Delhites would take to the odd-even (scheme), but they have. I thank Delhiites from the bottom of my heart for their effort today,” Rai told HT.
There was a mixed response from the public to the scheme with some lauding it for the “futuristic approach” and a few dubbing it impractical.
“It is definitely difficult to begin with. Someone who has driven down to office for few years can’t easily get used to travelling by metro or public buses instantly. But considering the congestion and increasing pollution, I believe this is a futuristic approach which was urgently needed at the moment,” said Gyanatosh Jha, a marketing professional.
A doctor who spoke on the condition of anonymity advocated exemption for medical professionals under the scheme.
“I think the idea is good but I will request the chief minister to relook at the modalities. A lot of us are in intensive care practice and they should look at it sensitively,” he said.
Critics of the scheme say the restrictions are not radical enough as motorcyclists and women driving alone are allowed, besides a long list of exemptions which include VIPs. Campaigners say motorbikes create up to 31 percent of pollution from vehicles.
One of the offenders on day one was BJP MP and former Mumbai Police commissioner Satyapal Singh who was stopped for travelling in an even-numbered car. Singh was not fined though the traffic police handed him a leaflet on the car rationing rules.
Police said a Noida resident was the first offender under the scheme when he was stopped at the ITO crossing and fined the mandatory Rs 2,000.
But even police said they were surprised by the success of the scheme.
“I would have expected to catch at least dozens in the first half an hour, but surprisingly most people are obeying,” said Ankit Kumar, a traffic policeman, shortly after the rule kicked in.
(with agency inputs)