Is odd, even formula the only answer to Delhi’s pollution?

  • Appu Esthose Suresh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 16, 2016 10:38 IST
Civil defence volunteer during the Odd-Even trial at ITO in New Delhi. (Ravi Choudhary/ Hindustan Times)

Are big cars the biggest polluters in the national capital? Consider this: Out of a total fleet of almost 66 lakh vehicles registered in Delhi, only 95,570 or 1.4% are big cars, i.e. vehicles that have an engine capacity of over 2000cc.

Has the 15-day-long pilot phase of Delhi government’s odd-even traffic restriction resulted in lower levels of pollution? Not if you consider this: 47.27 lakh vehicles, or 71.6%, both four-wheelers and two wheelers, in the Capital are not BS IV standard pollution level compliant.

Does the odd-even formula mean lesser vehicles on the roads in the future? Again consider this: the vehicle restriction has not greatly impacted sales of four-wheelers in the city.

After analysing voluminous data of 65.99 lakh vehicles — excluding government vehicles and pre-2010 registration that have not been updated — available with the Delhi transport department, HT puts together a series of findings to understand if the odd-even formula is the sole answer to Delhi’s serious pollution problems.

Let’s go back to big cars. Recently, the Supreme Court refused to vacate its stay on the ban on sale of high-end luxury vehicles with engine capacities of 2000cc or more, till March 31, 2016. According to data analysed by HT, vehicles with engine capacity of 2000cc make up for a paltry 4.09% of the total four-wheeler fleet in the city, and just 1.4% of all vehicles, including two-wheelers and other vehicles.

The data also reveals that 47 lakh vehicles – 28.4 lakh two-wheelers and 17.4 lakh four-wheelers – predate BS IV standards that came into force in April 2010. The new BS IV standards ensure stricter pollution compliance in line with European standards.

In other words, there might be fewer vehicles on the roads during the odd-even formula, but only 28.4% of them are pollution standard compliant. Further, the restriction is applicable only to four-wheelers, which bring to focus only 7.4 lakh vehicles that are BS IV compliant.

Even the sales of four-wheelers during the period between December 5, 2015 and January 10, 2016 have not taken a hit in comparison with corresponding periods in the previous four years. After the Delhi government announced the Beijing inspired odd-even formula on December 4, a total of 8,298 new four-wheelers were registered, a dip of only about 985 vehicles over the previous year.

The number, however, remains above the average sale of vehicles (7,679) for the same period over the last four years, 2012-2015.

The Delhi government’s measures to fight the Capital’s toxic air are largely inspired by the Beijing model, which was introduced in the Chinese capital ahead of the Summer Olympics in 2008.

Several studies on the impact of permanent travel restrictions in Beijing based on the odd-even formula reveal that in the two years following the regulations, those who could afford to buy a second vehicle opted for purchasing a new vehicle to circumvent the formula. This resulted in a whopping 40% of vehicles returning to the streets.

According to the Beijing Transportation Research Center (Legal Evening Paper1, 2011), the congestion index in Beijing decreased from 7.95 in 2007 (the year before the restriction was formally implemented) to 5.93 in 2009 (the year after).

However, this index value quickly jumped back to 7.80 in 2010. Possible reasons cited by the paper include both noncompliance and the purchase of more vehicles.

By analysing vehicle ownership according to price, we attempt to forecast a similar development in Delhi. How many car owners might prefer to opt for a second vehicle?

We studied the data — divided into five price brackets based on ex-showroom price — of 5.4 lakh four-wheelers registered in the last three years to identify a pattern.

Based on the profile of vehicle-owners costing above Rs 8 lakh, in case of a permanent application of the odd-even formula we could be looking at 22.4%-42.4% vehicle-owners who can afford a cheap second-hand vehicle.

There are 13 regional transport offices in Delhi and HT has taken the pattern of vehicle registration for four years since 2012.

The data of vehicle ownership also paints a picture of how wealth is distributed in Delhi. Does it mean rich pollute more?

Consider this: New Delhi district which covers upscale residential colonies such as Malcha Marg, Chanakyapuri, Bengali Market and Connaught Place etc. have 40,647 four-wheelers and 16,909 two-wheelers.

In contrast, Central district, which covers residents of relatively less affluent Rajinder Nagar, Ballimaran, Karol Bagh etc. have 28,234 four-wheelers and 99,700 two-wheelers.

A similar pattern emerges from South District-II that covers upscale colonies such as Vasant Vihar, Green Park etc and South District-I, which includes a mix of both upscale and middle-class residential areas like Panchsheel and Sangham Vihar respectively.

The data clearly indicates that in areas with upscale residential colonies the cars outnumber two-wheelers.

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