From being its most radical initiative, the odd-even car rationing drive has now become an abandoned child of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi.
Even as chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had declared both phases of the odd-even rule successful, a report submitted by a panel, appointed by his own government, suggests otherwise. The panel said the second round fell way short of expectations. The reason, the report said, was that there were an additional 4 lakh cars and 1.3 lakh two-wheelers on the roads in the second round as compared with the maiden edition. One of the reasons for this was that the first edition was enforced from January 1 to January 15, 2016, when schools were shut for winter vacations, and the second was enforced in the peak traffic season from April 15 to 30.
The drive, which was used as a badge of achievement by the government till last year, is being given a quiet burial with Kejriwal recently acknowledging, for the first time, that the odd-even drive couldn’t be a permanent solution to Delhi’s foul air and traffic congestion — issues he referred to as “very complex problems.”
What did the report say?
The report submitted by the six-member government-appointed committee to find out what went wrong with the odd-even drive indicated that the move did not really help in reducing air pollution or unclogging Delhi.
Although it starts by saying that Odd-Even II was “largely successful since car owners in Delhi voluntarily complied with the initiative”, it also lists out a series of issues that rather worsened the problems than actually solving them.
Apart from the increase in the number of vehicles — 3,88,886 cars, 1,34,598 two-wheelers and 8,000 buses — the report stated that 20,427 vehicles entered Delhi from Gurgaon between 8.30am to 10.30am during odd-even and 23,613 vehicles entered after the odd-scheme during the same morning peak hours. “The average reduction was not substantial,” it read.
Besides, data collected from incoming vehicles from Gurgaon and Noida indicated that the residents of satellite towns did not shift to car pooling or public transport and rather made alternate arrangements resulting in marginal decrease in the number of vehicles coming from these towns.
“Approximately 30,000 CNG stickers were issued during phase II of the same scheme in addition to 4.93 lakh CNG vehicles existing during phase I. Thus, there were 30,000 additional vehicles plying,” the report added.
Construction activity at Bhairon Marg, Rao Tula Ram Marg and the dismantling of the BRT corridor were also found to be contributing issues which had a cascading effect on traffic in a radius of almost 8 to 10 kms.
Swept Under the Carpet
The ambitious odd-even car rationing drive triggered a seismic shift in the ordinary life of Delhiites not once, but twice, with two doses of the drive.
The maiden edition was undertaken after Delhi’s toxic air quality made headlines and caught the Supreme Court’s attention, which termed the city’s atmosphere as a ‘gas chamber.’ Women drivers, two-wheelers and VIPs were exempted from the rule.
“While the move received a mixed response from the public, there was no clear indication if it helped reducing air pollution as the air quality monitoring stations were completely unprepared to conduct any such study,” said an official, who was involved in the project.
Yet, people were not complaining and were largely cooperative as Delhi had never seen radical measures like these. The move was being talked about everywhere, including the international media.
Riding high on the popularity of the drive, Kejriwal, after conclusion of its first phase, said that his government was ‘seriously considering’ the ‘permanent enforcement’ of the scheme for 15 days every month.
The scheme ended and the government embarked on an exercise to ask the public if there should be a second round. Within days of the first drive, Kejriwal announced the scheme in the run-up to the conclusion of his maiden year in office.
In Part II of the odd-even scheme, the same exemptions continued. It turned out to be worse than Part-I as traffic congestion was back and the numbers in no way could prove that the air quality showed any signs of improvement compelling the government to constitute a committee to analyse what went wrong.
Similar was the fate of ‘Car-Free Day’, launched with much fanfare by the AAP government in a bid to decongest city roads and to curb pollution by cars. Launched on October 22, 2015, the initial idea was to ban cars on the 22nd of every month on a chosen stretch of road. The then transport minister Gopal Rai had termed it as the “beginning of a revolution”. But, it lasted only five months.
Speaking to HT, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia had said the drive died out because the “police stopped cooperating.”
“In the first 2-3 car-free days, the police helped. But, later they said they won’t stop vehicles on certain roads until a notification is issued from the L-G according to Section 115 of the Motor Vehicles Act,” government officials said.