Under pressure from the Bombay High Court, Mumbai will be the first Indian city to begin traffic restriction on the basis of number plate. The scheme has been on the backburner for eight years.
As per the scheme, vehicles with plates ending with the numbers 1 and 2 would be barred entry into the island city on Mondays. Those with number plates having the last digits 3 and 4 would not be allowed in on Tuesdays, 5 and 6 on Wednesdays, 7 and 8 on Thursdays and 9 and 0 on Fridays.
Government and police cars, ambulances and emergency vehicles would be exempt from the ban. Beijing introduced a similar scheme just before the Olympics to decongest the city and bring down pollution levels.
Last Wednesday, a division bench of Justices JN Patel and KK Tated directed Transport Commissioner S Shinde to file an affidavit by August 20, explaining how the state would implement the scheme.
The bench sternly asked the state government and Transport Department to get serious about decongesting the city as “the problem of traffic congestion leads to pollution and ultimately affects the health of the public at large”.
In 2000, a committee headed by then transport commissioner VM Lal had come up with “100 ways to reduce Mumbai’s vehicular pollution”. But, when the government failed to act, the Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG), a non-governmental organisation, filed a public interest litigation in 2003 demanding that the scheme be implemented.
The government had in 2001 agreed to implement it in principle, but has done nothing so far. At one point, the government even backtracked after former director-general of police Dr PS Pasricha, a traffic expert, termed it as unfeasible. The government had also said that it first needed to beef up public transport. For instance, the promise of deploying 500 air-conditioned buses had not been fulfilled.
Additional Government Pleader SK Nair informed the court last week that the government had set up committees to deal with problems highlighted by the case. They are examining reports of expert bodies that had studied the problems.
The court asked Shinde to go ahead with the scheme and use the experience to improve it.
Major cities across the world have tried to reduce congestion in various ways. London, for instance, levies a congestion tax, as do Singapore and Stockholm. Athens, Mexico City and Sao Paulo restrict use of vehicles based on their number plates.