‘Odd – even’ pilot of Delhi

Politicians are expected to have dollops of showmanship in them. Afterall, its their bread and butter to play to the galleries and tom tom any achievement. Except, in this case though, the Delhi government led by CM Kejriwal has gone one step ahead and introduced a discredited idea as a pilot for around a fortnight in the name of reducing air pollution. And expectedly, when the pilot didnt lead to desired results, Kejriwal patted himself anyway saying that congestion had reduced in Delhi.

Remember, it was the SC that initiated the process of ‘CNG’ isation of vehicles plying for commercial purposes way back in 1998 due to alarming levels of air pollution in the capital city state. That led to the state transport buses fleet, auto / taxi fleet etc being ‘CNG’ ised. Now again the judiciary is campaigning for improvments in the air quality of Delhi as the air quality index is worse than even Beijing. It was in response to this that the Delhi government introduced the “odd – even” rule in Delhi. Essentially, this rule meant that odd digit ending liscense plate numbers would be able to ply only on odd days and likewise for even digit ending liscense plates.

First of all, pvt cars contribute an insignificant amount to the total quantum of particulates. Thus, attacking this source is pointless.

Secondly, experience of cities ranging from Mexico City, Paris, Beijing (authorities had taken many other stringent measures to improve air quality around Beijing Olympics) and a few African cities shows that this rule encourages perverse reaction from the affected public such as corruption at lower levels, increase in car purchases as people would want to buy a ‘secondary car’ since their primary car would be useless half of the time further increasing congestion, fake liscense plates etc.

Thirdly, direct policy actions like the ones in London and Singapore, which have a congestion tax levied during peak hours and in certain areas of the city as also Punitive cascading taxes on second and third cars has been found to be better way to curb pollution. These cities provide excellent public transportation systems as alternatives which no Indian city can boast off (Except Mumbai to an extent, with its excellent suburban train network, local buses, autos / taxis).

There is an interesting thought provoking article on this by Mr Dalmia of the Dalmia Group.

In another article in Reuters, Dr Lucas Davis, in a research paper talks about how the odd – even plan failed to curb pollution levels in Mexico City when it was conducted in 1989. In fact, it led to undesirable outcomes like purchase of secondary vehicles which increased congestion further. What worked was tightening the emission standards which improved the air quality substantially over a period of time.

Incidentally, the central government policy of not passing on the crude decline to consumers and keeping gasoline / diesel expensive and the move to advance BS -6 are steps in the right direction.

Delhi government pilot is nothing more than a publicity stunt whereas the central government move is just what the doctor has ordered.

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