Kejriwal has raised pollution awareness through the odd-even scheme

Delhi government’s ambitious “odd-even” scheme for vehicles draws to a close on November 15, even as the air quality once again plunged to “severe” category in National Capital Region (NCR). The jury is still out on the level of impact this scheme has had on controlling pollution and Dilli walas seem to be divided on its implementation.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had first implemented the odd-even scheme in January 2016 to keep pollution levels under check in Delhi-NCR. Under this scheme a vehicle can ply only on alternate days on the Delhi roads depending on the last digit of its registration number. On dates ending with an even digit, a vehicle with its registration number ending with an even digit can ply. Ditto for odd dates. Touted as an out of the box measure, it was aimed at reducing vehicular emissions in Delhi.

Has it worked? Yes and no.

The good news and perhaps the biggest achievement of the scheme has been to churn awareness. The debate today is about the extent of this impact. That’s for the environmentalists to study and come up with a report. Importantly, the implementation of the odd-even scheme is an acceptance of the pollution menace. For the first time a chief minister in the country has shown courage to acknowledge this problem of pollution and thrash out an out of the box formula.

Any experiment that aims to address the issue of pollution must be supported wholeheartedly even if its results are below our expectations. Even Kejriwal’s strongest critics will admit that with the odd-even scheme, awareness on pollution has gone up significantly. Political differences aside, the war against pollution has to be a joint effort, simply because the poisonous air doesn’t distinguish political leanings among Delhi’s denizens.

Let’s also understand why the scheme may have had limited success. With several exemptions, the number of cars on Delhi roads had not reduced drastically which could have led to a massive drop in vehicular emissions. Yet, despite the limitations, the need of the hour is to tackle this menace head on and continue to think out of the box.

Air quality in Delhi and its neighbouring states is never very healthy — it is a problem which we brave throughout the year. Though burning of paddy stubble in the neighbouring states contributes the lion’s share in Delhi pollution, vehicular emission which also contributes to deterioration of the air quality needs to be curtailed as well.

The sceptics of odd-even scheme have challenged it in the Supreme Court. Questioning the efficacy of the scheme, the petition against odd-even underlines that the scheme is in violation of the fundamental rights especially when there is no restriction on two wheelers. The apex court has sought data on AQI (Air Quality Index) during the odd-even scheme from the state government. Yet we need to realise that pollution is an emergency and we need to address it on a priority basis if we want socio-economic development.

It is imperative to have clean air – not only to ensure health of our citizens but to create a conducive business environment in the country. After all New Delhi is the country’s capital city. The least the governments—both central and state—can do is to ensure that there is clean air and less pollution. This will make this country a more attractive investment destination. With economic growth slowing down, the NDA government is trying to thrash out various measures to boost demand and attract investments. But it is absolutely disheartening to see that pollution does not feature in any of these reform measures. To ensure long term sustainable growth and investments, we need to have clean air.   

Mahua Venkatesh
Mahua Venkatesh
Mahua Venkatesh has over 20 years of experience as a business journalist. Over these years she has been writing on economy, business and finance. She has been in senior editorial roles at Hindustan Times, The Financial Express and ThePrint among several other leading media organisations of India.

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