Delhi’s first car-free day hitched a ride on Dusshera holiday that saw a large number of vehicles staying off the road and the city, which has the dirtiest air in the world, recording a dramatic dip in pollution.
The Delhi government on Thursday took the first step towards cleaning the city’s air when it closed a five-km stretch between the Red Fort and Bhagwan Das Road in the heart of the Capital to cars from 7am to 12pm, emulating neighbouring Gurgaon that recently started car-free Tuesdays.
Data compiled by the Centre for Science and Environment showed a 59% drop in the average levels of particulate matter (PM) 10 on the stretch when compared to Wednesday.
The fall in levels of PM 2.5, a result of vehicular emissions, was steeper -- from 689 microgramme per cubic meter on Wednesday to 265 µg/m³ on Thursday.
Greenpeace India found the PM2.5 concentration to be 172 µg/m³, which was still 16 times higher than the WHO threshold for clean air. For Wednesday, the reading was 428 µg/m³.
High exposure to particulates of 2.5 microns that are fine enough to lodge deep in lungs and blood tissues can cause respiratory and cardiac problems. The WHO has declared polluted air a carcinogen.
Thursday being a public holiday was the reason for the big drop in pollution as fewer cars were on roads compared to a normal working day.
Attributing lower pollution levels to the car-free day would be erroneous as the drive was carried out on a holiday. Also, the drop was not restricted to the Red Fort-Bhagwan Das Road stretch. Four Delhi Pollution Control Committee stations – Punjabi Bagh in west Delhi, Mandir Marg (central), Anand Vihar (east) and RK Puram in south Delhi -- also recorded an overall drop of 45% in the PM2.5 levels.
During the first car-free day, the emphasis was on creating awareness than enforcing compliance. A similar exercise is planned for Dwarka in southwest Delhi on November 22, a Sunday, when the whole day would be car free.
Vehicular emissions are one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in Delhi, which has the highest numbers of cars in India. On an average, the Capital adds 1,400 cars on its roads every day.
Such events would be reduced to a symbolic exercise unless people make a concerted effort to cut down dependence on cars, CSE executive director Anumita Roychowdhury said. “Restraint on cars can help save lives and protect the lungs of our children,” she said.