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Is Odd-Even scheme adequate to address environmental problems in Delhi?

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The National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD) population has increased from 13.85 million in 2001 to 16.75 million in 2011 with a decadal growth rate of 21.12 per cent which is much higher than the national growth rate at17.7 per cent. The total area of NCTD of Delhi is 1483 km2  in which 558.32 kmis rural and remaining 924.68 km2 is urban. In between 2001 to 2011, Delhi urban area has expanded by almost 35% and also the population density has increased by 21% from 9340 to 11320 between 2001 and 2011. To fulfill the demands of growing population, vehicle registration in Delhi has rapidly increased. Delhi alone accounts for more than 8 per cent of the total registered vehicles in India with a vehicle population more than 8 million. Delhi alone has more number of registered vehicles when compared to combined number of total vehicles registered in three metropolitan cities, namely – Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai.

The rapid growth in population and vehicles has put enormous pressure on all transport systems. It is obvious that transportation systems such as road, rail, and marine have high effect on climate change. Delhi is very concentrated city and it is seriously facing transport challenges like traffic congestion, parking difficulties, longer commuting, public transport inadequacy, environmental degradation, energy consumption, and road accidents.The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has stated in its various reports that air pollution in Delhi has reached critical level and is causing several health problems. In academic domain, it has often been argued that transport is to be blamed for environmental degradation in the capital city. Meanwhile, CPCB did a 68 day study of monitoring stations and submitted results to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which found that the average level of benzene concentration in Delhi is 14 micrograms per cubic meter which is almost three times higher than the safe limit of 5. Benzene is a chemical compound and derived from crude oil and petrol but not necessarily it is exhausted from vehicles. There are high chances that the rise in benzene level could be because of evaporation from petrol filling station. Delhi is going through tough challenges and it would be wise to install vapour recovery systems at all petrol pumps to assure reduction in benzene level.

Due to inefficiency in transport systems and continuous growing environmental challenges, Delhi government decided to take some major precautionary steps to address these issues. In order to address air pollution, Odd-Even scheme was progressively implemented to four wheelers Passengers /private cars on a trail base from 1st to 15th January 2016. As per the rule, car with odd numbered registration plates were allowed to ply on odd dates and those with even numbered plates were permitted on even dates. However, a special exemption was offered for single women (or with children), public vehicles and medical emergencies, etc.

As per CPCB reports, on an average basis, the contribution of vehicular pollution in ambient air during winter season for PM10 and PM2.5 is 20% and 25% respectively. To understand the impact of Odd-Even scheme, the CPCB has recorded the emission of PM10, PM2.5, SO2, O3, NO2 and CO in three phases; first before implementation of Odd-Even scheme (25th to 31st Dec. 2015), second during Odd-Even scheme (1st to 15th Jan. 2016) and third post Odd-Even scheme (16th to 21st Jan 2016). Based on CPCB data (shown in Table 1), it is clear that transport is not major factor of air pollution in Delhi but there are some other polluting sources too. The data provided by the CPCB shows wide fluctuations in the concentration of pollutant particles and therefore transport sector alone cannot be blamed. Now, government needs to introspect other sectors and design policies accordingly to make sure that Delhi can reduce pollution.

Table 1: Air Quality Profile (average in µg/m3)Central Pollution Control Board-page0001 (2) (1)
During Odd-Even scheme, cars uses were reduced by 30% and car-pooling went up by 387.7 per cent. The idea of car-pooling and car sharing needs to be endorsed as it will not only reduce the number of vehicles plying on the roads but also reduce air and noise pollution level.  Also, private auto rickshaws use increased by 156.3 per cent but metro could only attract 58.4 per cent more commuters. This formula also helped commuters to cover their distance in less time due to less traffic congestions.

In spite of the initial reluctance and debatable success, the scheme was successful in inculcating the sense of responsibilities among Delhiites towards environmental issues and its impact on human life. But Odd-Even scheme is not good enough or sustainable and therefore government needs to introduce sustainable transport approach. There are some other ways to improve Delhi’s overall transport systems such as:

  • Improve Public transportation systems including, connectivity, reliability and travel time
  • Increase taxes on newly purchased vehicles and on petrol prices
  • Provide special lanes for pedestrians and cyclists and promote it
  • Provide reasonable subsidy on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to shift consumers from petrol oriented vehicles to CNG
  • Introduce joint smart card system for Buses Metro

It would not be fair to solely blame the government for transport failure as public sector finance is so limited that funding for transport improvement is woefully inadequate. Still the Delhi government has given second most priority to transport sector in Plan-outlay where 24% of total budget is given to transport industry, which is 3695 crore. Will this huge funding make Delhi transportation more efficient and competitive? The present scenario of public transport systems is very poor and transport facilities are used far beyond their design capacity. It is time to invest more in transport infrastructure for cleaner environment and greener future of Delhi.

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is pursuing Doctoral course at Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea. He is majoring in Transport Planning and his interest lies in sustainable transportation, transport economics and environmental issues. He can be reached at [email protected]

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