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Delhi air pollution: Govt cancels odd-even after NGT scraps exemptions

Earlier this week, the Delhi government had announced implementation of the odd-even scheme from November 13-17, given the high level of smog in the capital.

delhi Updated: Nov 11, 2017 23:51 IST
Sweta Goswami and Joydeep Thakur
Sweta Goswami and Joydeep Thakur
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Delhi air pollution,Air pollution,Odd even
Raisina hills is seen enveloped in a thick blanket of smog in New Delhi. As air pollution peaked this week in Delhi, it rose to more than 30 times the World Health Organization's recommended safe level.(AP Photo)

The Delhi government shelved its plan on Saturday to introduce a five-day road rationing arrangement after the National Green Tribunal denied exemption to two-wheeler riders and women. The drive would have mandated that vehicles with odd and even registration numbers ply on alternate days.

“We respect the NGT’s order, but the existing public transport system won’t be able to take the load of three million additional passengers who otherwise use two-wheelers,” Kailash Gahlot, state transport minister, said on Saturday. “Also, keeping women’s security in mind, the government has decided to call off the scheme for now.”

The Delhi government said it will approach the green tribunal again on Monday, and request that exemptions be granted to women drivers and two-wheeler users. Subject to the NGT decision, the Delhi government will “consider implementing it again”.

The government announced on Thursday that it would introduce the odd-even drive from November 13 to 17, with pollution levels continuing to be “severe” for more than 48 hours. However, it chose to retain the exemptions it allowed the last two times, to which the NGT took exception.

Of Delhi’s total vehicular population of over 10 million, two-wheelers constitute around 6.3 million. The NGT said vehicles contribute around 20% to the city’s pollution, of which nearly 30% comes from two-wheelers.

The air quality of Delhi-NCR, which touched emergency levels on Tuesday, improved significantly on Saturday. The average AQI (air quality index) of Delhi, which was 468 on Friday and 486 on Thursday, dropped to 403 early on Saturday, the fifth consecutive day it stayed in the “severe” range. The AQI level, however, shot up again on Saturday night, hitting 445 around 10pm.

Levels of particulate matter, which had been declining since Friday and came out of the emergency range on Saturday morning, also shot up at night and entered the emergency zone once again.

Earlier, the NGT told the government it was free to implement the road rationing arrangement but said withdrawing the decision would also be the administration’s call. “We know you are looking for a shelter. But we will not give it. You have taken a call. Please go ahead with it,” a bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar told the government’s counsel.

The counsel had sought the court’s instruction as to whether the government should go ahead with the scheme, in view of improving pollution levels.

Minutes after being rapped by the tribunal, the government went into a huddle with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal calling an emergency meeting with cabinet colleagues and the government brass.

Sources said in the meeting officials apprised the chief minister that the existing fleet of 5,400 buses would not be able to cope if two-wheelers were brought under the odd-even scheme.

Also, it would be “nearly impossible” for the limited strength of traffic police to monitor violators, given the sheer volume of two-wheeler vehicles.

The NGT on Friday questioned the government’s intention in implementing the scheme at a time when air quality was improving.

Met officials said light rain could hit the city on November 15, which could be a double whammy as it would bring down pollution temporarily but the high moisture levels would likely trigger another round of fog after the showers.

First Published: Nov 11, 2017 15:57 IST