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Ban non-CNG private vehicles or go in for Odd-Even in Delhi, suggests EPCA

The Supreme Court-mandated body has suggested that all non-CNG vehicles – including all private cars and two-wheelers – in the National Capital Region (NCR) be barred from the roads if pollution levels spike again.

delhi Updated: Nov 15, 2018 00:41 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The ‘big idea’ to solve Delhi’s pollution crisis shows that the primary custodians of the capital’s air quality have run out of ideas.
The ‘big idea’ to solve Delhi’s pollution crisis shows that the primary custodians of the capital’s air quality have run out of ideas.(AFP)
         

The ‘big idea’ to solve Delhi’s pollution crisis shows that the primary custodians of the capital’s air quality have run out of ideas.

The Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority, or EPCA, on Wednesday reiterated its unprecedented recommendation to take private vehicles off the road, a move that threatens to plunge Delhi into a public commuting catastrophe, bringing the city to its knees, while doing little to improve air quality – if data, expert opinion and past experience are anything to go by.

The Supreme Court-mandated body has suggested that all non-CNG vehicles – including all private cars and two-wheelers – in the National Capital Region (NCR) be barred from the roads if pollution levels spike again. That means grounding more than 92% of Delhi’s 10.8 million registered vehicles, leaving the capital at the mercy of its inadequate bus fleet, its still-burgeoning Metro network, and its poor last-mile connectivity.

“Even on a normal day, Delhi’s public transport system fails to make daily commute easy for people. One has to wait anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour for a bus. For the police and other enforcing agencies, implementing this ban will be impossible. The city will come to a standstill!” said Sanjay Gupta, head of the transport and planning department at the School of Planning and Architecture.

Out of 11.2 million registered vehicles in Delhi, 10.4 million are private cars and two-wheelers. A ban would put the responsibility of ferrying the city’s nearly 20 million population on just 5,443 buses, a Metro network of 314km, and a taxi fleet of about 150,000.

Road safety expert Dinesh Mohan, a former professor at Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, said such bans are “instant solutions” that are “ineffective” and “undemocratic” if carried out without public hearings.

The big question is: Will such a ban really cut pollution?

A study by The Energy Research Institute (TERI) and Automotive Research Association of India has shown that private cars contribute around 3% to emissions.

Another credible and highly cited assessment based on transport emissions inventory of Delhi for 2014 by urbanemissions.info says that private vehicles – cars and two-wheelers – contribute only 6.6% to the city’s emissions. These numbers beg a second question: Does a small cut in pollutants merit a measure that would bring India’s national capital to a halt?

“Such a knee-jerk reaction could prove counter-productive. Banning private vehicles would only bring down the pollution by a few percent; it won’t be worth the pain. In future, people will get an excuse not to follow orders, and the entire fight against pollution will fail,” said Sunil Dahiya, senior Greenpeace India campaigner.

EPCA, headed by former bureaucrat Bhure Lal, in its letter to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on Wednesday, cited the examples of Beijing and Paris that have enforced restrictions on private vehicles – either according to number plate or by fuel-type and age.

But it did not take into account that these cities have a robust transport network to fall back on. Beijing not only has five times the number of buses compared to Delhi, its Metro network is twice as large. And even Beijing has never asked for a complete public vehicle ban.

Experts pointed out that for the odd-even scheme, which failed to control Delhi’s pollution, the top court asked for several exemptions – two-wheelers, women, emergency vehicles – which EPCA has overlooked.

CPCB, which held a meeting on Wednesday, has tossed the ball on the recommendation back in the authority’s court. The capital waits, with bated breath, for its next move.

First Published: Nov 15, 2018 00:03 IST