The ambitious plan by the Delhi government to implement the odd-even scheme for private cars in a bid to clean up the city’s toxic air appears to have got going at a steady clip. But it is too early to break out the champagne as the beginning of the year is largely holiday season and the volume of traffic is less than normal.
Also, this is a trial period where enforcement is not as strict as it will eventually be if the scheme succeeds. On the first day there appears to be great degree of compliance by the commuters. But the battle to clean up Delhi’s air cannot be focused only on private vehicles. They contribute around 20% of the pollutants.
There is a large number of polluting small industries in the capital which operate disregarding all laws. Apart from the toxic substances that emanate from them, there are a huge number of two-wheelers which have not been touched by the new drive. The burning of garbage is another contributor to the noxious air. Two-wheelers are cheaper than public transport and maintaining them is also relatively cheap. This means that this source of pollution will continue unabated. The trucks also make things worse but at least they are regulated by strict entry and exit rules.
Alongside the odd-even drive, efforts must be made to improve the quality of diesel and encourage people to go in for more eco-friendly transport options. This experiment will be watched with interest by other two-tier cities and metros where the issue of pollution has not become such a subject of public debate as it has happened in Delhi. While the infamous Delhi traffic growth has made news, smaller metros and towns suffer from huge congestion problems too.
Traffic in Bengaluru, for example, is among the most congested in any city contributing hugely to air pollution. At one time there was a ill-thought-out scheme to offload polluting vehicles from metros to smaller towns as though the quality of lives of those in the latter were somehow not as important as those in the former. Public transport has to be improved and connectivity strengthened.
If the Delhi experiment is to succeed, it has to go beyond discussions of who is exempt and who is not. If people are expected to comply, they have to have viable alternatives in the form of public transport. Car pooling is not something which comes easily to many Indians used to private vehicles.
It would be a good idea to add to the websites which put people in touch with each other depending on time and location to facilitate car pooling. The scheme could work but there are many speed breakers on the way before we can really breathe easy.