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Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019

Capital’s odd-even plan will return in November

The move is part of a seven-point Parali Pradushan (stubble burning) action plan aimed at combating high levels of air pollution, Kejriwal said.

delhi Updated: Sep 14, 2019 08:18 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Delhi Transport Police personnel checking vehicle during the Odd-Even plan at DDU marg in New Delhi.
Delhi Transport Police personnel checking vehicle during the Odd-Even plan at DDU marg in New Delhi.(Ravi Choudhary/ Hindustan Times)

Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government will enforce the odd-even road rationing scheme between November 4 and 15 to tackle air pollution exacerbated by stubble burning in neighbouring northern states during the winter, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Friday.

The move is part of a seven-point Parali Pradushan (stubble burning) action plan aimed at combating high levels of air pollution, Kejriwal said. The plan will include measures such as extensive tree plantation, mechanised sweeping of roads and sprinkling of water, mass distribution of anti-pollution masks and improving the air quality at 12 hotspots.

“The first measure of our action plan is the odd-even road rationing scheme, which will start right after Diwali,which is on October 27. It will start from November 4, a Monday, and continue till November 15. The studies that have been done on odd-even suggest that the drive results in 10-13% reduction in pollution levels,” Kejriwal, whose party faces assembly elections early next year, told journalists.

Private vehicles with licence plates ending in odd and even numbers will be allowed on alternate days on the streets of the capital, whose air quality has been ranked by global surveys as among the world’s dirtiest, when the campaign is underway. Vehicular emissions are one of the chief contributors to pollution, which worsens in the winters because of stubble burning in northern states such as Punjab and Haryana.

During the 12-day road rationing, vehicles with registration numbers ending in an odd digit (1,3,5,7,9) will be allowed on the five odd days. Those with licence plates ending in an even digit (0,2,4,6,8) will be permitted to ply on the five even days. During the weekend (November 9-10), all vehicles will be allowed on the city’s roads.

In the previous two experiments in January and April in 2016, a fine of ~2,000 was specified for violators of the rule.

Kejriwal said details such as exemptions and fines on violators are yet to be decided. “We will take into consideration all findings from the previous odd-even experience,” he said. Government officials said that over the next few weeks, stakeholderssuch as experts, traffic police and transport department will be consulted to decide on the exemptions.

Exemptions under earlier odd-even stints had generated controversy, with VIPs, woman drivers, vehicles running on compressed natural gas and the disabled kept out of the ambit of the road rationing exercise. Two-wheelers, which number over 7.3 million of the 11.09 million registered vehicles in Delhi, were also exempted from the last two drives. The number of registered four-wheelers in the city stands at around 3.3 million.

Explaining the rationale behind the timing of the scheme, the chief minister said the odd-even drive is always an “emergency measure”.

“Because the smoke from stubble burning peaks during this time (November), we will be implementing the road rationing drive as an emergency measure,” he said.

The odd-even drive is a measure prescribed under the Supreme Court-mandated Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) when the air quality index of Delhi enters the severe+ zone for 48 hours or more. The severe+ category is when PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels breach the value of 300 and 500ug/m3.

PM 10 and 2.5 are solid and liquid pollutants of less than 10 and 2.5 microns in size respectively and are suspended in air. These particles can enter the respiratory system and cause health complications.

“The action plan, comprising of experts from meteorological department and others, is notified by the central government for all NCR {National Capital Region} states,” Bhure Lal, chairman of the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), which is the enforcing authority for GRAP, said,

“Emergency measures under it have to be rolled out after consultation from these experts, as meteorological conditions play an important role in the pollution levels during the winter. If the situation doesn’t warrant it, there will be no need to implement odd-even scheme,” said Lal.

He also questioned the Delhi government on the poor state of public transport in the city, which has only 5,454 buses against a requirement of 10,000 buses .

“Also, during odd-even, it’s important to take diesel vehicles, which are most polluting, off the roads. But even after SC {Supreme Court} directions, the Delhi government has not implemented the sticker scheme for identifying diesel, petrol and other vehicles,” Lal said.

Studies on the last two road rationing schemes that were rolled out in a span of three months in 2016 have differed on the impact of the exercise. The government said that according to a study done by the University of Chicago and Harvard University, Delhi’s air pollution had reduced by around 14%-16% during the first odd-even experiment in January 2016.

But studies done by Indian scientists revealed that the road rationing scheme didn’t deliver the desired results. One study done by a team of scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi, IIT-Kanpur, IITM-Pune, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Energy and Resources Institute found that pollution dropped by 2% – 3%. Experts from the Centre for Science and Environment said that it actually helped lower pollution levels and should be implemented as a short-term measure.

Union road transport minister Nitin Gadkari questioned the need for the scheme. “It is up to the Delhi government to implement the scheme. But I don’t think it is necessary. We have made a new Ring Road, and with that Delhi’s pollution has come down a lot. And in my estimate in two years... ~50,000 crore has been provided by my department, and the Yamuna Clean Water and Clean Air Scheme are going on, and with that in two years, Delhi will be pollution-free,” he said.

However, he later added that the Delhi government has the right to take its decision on combating pollution. “The Delhi government has the right to take its decisions. We have no problem,” he said.

The Delhi Congress said it was a “ploy” to divert the attention of the people from the “real issues” plaguing the national capital and the local unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) termed it a “populist measure” and a “political stunt”.

Delhi unit president of the BJP, Manoj Tiwari, said Kejriwal comes up with such schemes every now and then as an election stunt. “This is a political stunt. If he knows that in November the remains of crops are burnt, then why didn’t he implement the odd-even scheme every year in the month of November. Why is he doing this on the verge of 2020 when the elections are due,” he asked.

First Published: Sep 14, 2019 08:18 IST