The Delhi high court asked the Aam Aadmi Party government on Wednesday why it can’t restrict its traffic rationing scheme to this week, saying inconvenience was being caused to commuters.
A division bench of Chief Justice of the Delhi HC G Rohini and justice Jayant Nath asked the government to submit empirical data collected on level of air pollution during the first half of the 15-day trial period of the even-odd scheme.
“Why don’t you confine it to one week? Why do you need to have it for 15 days?” the bench asked and said “there is no sufficient public transport” to support the scheme.
For 15 days from January 1, private cars are being allowed on the city’s roads every other day to try to reduce pollutant levels, which regularly hit 10 times the World Health Organization’s safe limits.
Cars with odd-numbered licence plates have been directed to ply on odd-numbered dates, and those with even-numbered plates on the other days.
The Delhi government’s standing counsel Rahul Mehra said the decision was taken to decrease the air pollution level in the capital. “We are doing it for the people of the city and for the future generation. One out of three children born here said respiratory problems,” Mehra said, adding that initial data showed a drop in the air pollution level.
In a status report submitted to the court, the AAP government defended its decision to exempt two-wheelers from the scheme. “In case of two-wheelers, pooling would have been a limited option and it was expected that around 60-70% of the population would have to resort to public transport. The present available public transport infrastructure is not sufficient to cater to such a huge demand,” the report said.
It said the reduction in the number of four-wheelers helps decrease the congestion on roads, “which has a positive effect on vehicular pollution control”.
The Delhi government’s temporary initiative to check alarming air pollution has come under fire from the day it was announced and the latest petition too has sought the quashing of the administration’s December 28, 2015, notification bringing the scheme into force for 15 days from January 1.
The HC was hearing a bunch of petitions filed by 12 different parties against the even-odd formula. It, however, declined to interfere with it till Friday, the next date of hearing.
Some of the PILs have challenged the entire scheme as being “arbitrary” or “ill-conceived”, while others are against certain portions of it, like the exemptions given to women drivers and two-wheelers.
The latest petition by Delhi resident B Badrinath claims that the city government’s scheme violates his fundamental rights--equality, freedom of movement and right to practise any profession or occupation--guaranteed under the Constitution.
There are some PILs seeking inclusion of certain categories like lawyers in the list of exempted persons and some which have questioned whether the government has the power to modify vehicular movement in the national capital.
The vehicles exempted from odd-even scheme include those of the president, vice president, prime minister, Chief Justice of India, Union ministers, governors and chief ministers of states and Union Territories “except that of Delhi”.
Women drivers, CNG-certified vehicles, VIPs, two -wheelers, ambulances, defence vehicles and embassy vehicles are also exempt from the restrictions.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had said while announcing the scheme that he and his cavalcade will not avail the exemption offered to the VIPs.
Badrinath has questioned the reason for allowing commercial vehicles running on petrol and diesel as well as two-wheelers to run everyday regardless of their registration number when private vehicles were only allowed to run on city roads only on alternate days based on their odd and even number plates.
The PIL has alleged that the public transport system in place was insufficient to handle the huge volume of people who would not be using their personal vehicles as per the scheme.
Hundreds of traffic police and volunteers have taken to the streets to enforce the scheme, including dozens of children wearing smog masks and holding banners urging drivers to comply.
Most drivers appeared to be sticking to the rules, with Delhi’s usually clogged roads flowing relatively freely.