Police cracked down on violators on Day 1 of odd-even plan’s second phase on Friday but the scheme’s impact on pollution remained unclear with the government’s real test scheduled when schools and offices reopen after a long weekend.
The Delhi transport department fined 511 people till noon – more than double the number on January 1 when the initiative was first launched – signalling the administration planned to get tough with violators.
The day began with air pollution far exceeding permissible limits in some areas but those levels dipped as the day progressed due to increasing wind speeds.
The second phase saw a mixed response from the people of Delhi as some hailed it as a good initiative and others pointed out that it did not help reduce pollution the last time.
The Aam Aadmi Party government had implemented the first phase of the radical initiative between January 1 and 15 to clean up Delhi’s polluted air, considered the worst in the world.
Delhi transport minister Gopal Rai hinted at the possibility of the odd-even scheme becoming a regular feature every month if this phase is successful.
“The first phase was during winters, and this is summer. We will collate the experiences from both the seasons. Therefore, this is a decisive phase. Depending on the feedback, the government may consider odd-even scheme every month for 15 days,” he added.
Experts said the administration had a smooth ride as Friday was a holiday due to Ram Navami with schools and offices closed. The long weekend also meant many Delhiites were out of town.
Rai, however, assured that the government is prepared to tackle the situation. He appealed to Delhiites to leave “early” to drop their children to school so that they are not caught on the wrong side.
He also urged women drivers to drop other children in their neighborhood along with their own children to school to make sure that they come back before 8am when the restrictions come into force every day, except Sunday.
Air pollution levels appeared unaffected by the scheme. The levels of PM2.5 – the tiniest particulate matter that affects lungs and enters the blood stream – was at 298 microgrammes per cubic metre at 8am, according to HT’s air pollution monitoring index.
But it dropped to 62 by noon as wind speeds almost tripled. The permissible limit is 60.
In an effort to monitor air-quality in the national capital and other cities in India, Hindustan Times brings you a real-time air pollution map.
According to System of Air Pollution Monitoring and Forecasting (Safar), the Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi on Friday was 269 – a “poor” rating that may cause adverse health effects for ‘sensitive people’.
“Air quality can’t improve or deteriorate in just one day. It takes sustained effort to change something so complex,” Rai said.
“We also need to change Delhi’s mindset and its functioning. Odd-even scheme works because it also reduces traffic congestion. If cars are on the road for a shorter period of time, they will pollute less.”
AAP satisfied, buses reduced
The transport minister said the AAP government was satisfied with the response but conceded they may face problems as schools are open this time around.
“I have reports from all over Delhi that people are following the scheme. The final picture will emerge after we receive reports from different departments,” Rai, who took a bus ride to assess implementation of the scheme, told reporters.
He said the number of buses has been “reduced” this time as many buses ran empty during the trial run of the scheme in January.
“DTC will ply around 6000 buses. Additional 600 buses from schools and other private parties will further strengthen public transport. The number could vary after assessment of demand,” he said.
BJP, Congress disagree
However, BJP MLA Vijender Gupta said the scheme is not a permanent solution to the national capital’s traffic woes.
“The government’s aim through this programme is not clear. This is all just a waste of effort and time and it’s not even a permanent solution,” he said.
Former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit said that odd-even is a blatant attempt to fool people into believing that the formula was a raging success.
“AAP has had no new idea except the odd-even scheme, they have put up ads all across Delhi. Where is the money coming from?” she questioned.