AAP Offers Even-Odd Formula, But What About Evening The Odds?
Traffic crawls bumper-to-bumper on  road in New Delhi. (File photo: Reuters)
Traffic crawls bumper-to-bumper on road in New Delhi. (File photo: Reuters)

AAP Offers Even-Odd Formula, But What About Evening The Odds?

The AAP government’s controversial executive order to reduce dangerous levels of air pollution in Delhi is unlikely to make a sufficient dent in it. We are talking about between three and 14 times above the safe limit in different parts. Nevertheless, it seeks to halve the number of private cars allowed to ply on any given day.

Meanwhile, we burn unsorted garbage and leaves despite the bans. We bury toxic waste and foul the water and sub soil. Carrion birds feast in overflowing, putrefying, garbage dhalaos. We have no modern garbage processing plants at all.

A scavenger sifts through ashes of waste for scrap metals in a garbage dump on the outskirts of New Delhi. (File photo: Reuters)
A scavenger sifts through ashes of waste for scrap metals in a garbage dump on the outskirts of New Delhi. (File photo: Reuters)

This odds-and-evens effort promises chaos and hardship, given the inadequate state of our public transport. By itself, it cannot, however, appreciably better the air quality.

Better Handling Abroad

There are many other places one can cite that have dealt with such problems better; big cities like Paris, London, Moscow, helped by strong governments and huge conflagrations in congested slum areas. Once thus providentially cleared, there was scope to renew things. So there are worthwhile public transport systems, massive parks, walkways, cycle paths; often next to thriving rivers. But, to be real, we need to look at ourselves, just the way we are.



A zero-emission fuel cell bus waits at Aldgate bus station on its first day of service in central London, January 14, 2004. (Photo: Reuters)
A zero-emission fuel cell bus waits at Aldgate bus station on its first day of service in central London, January 14, 2004. (Photo: Reuters)

Still, no doubt statistics will be trotted out, to show how well the anti-pollution drive has done. It will probably be extended. Why, the one voluntary traffic-free day, with the chief minister and his colleagues photographed on bicycles, also recorded an appreciable drop in air pollution levels.

But this putting half the cars of Delhi away, on pain of a yet-to-be announced quantum of fine, is, in any case, an untested novelty. It is a hopeful measure, instead of the much needed comprehensive approach.

Snapshotclose

Whither Comprehensive Approach?

  • More needs to be done than rationalisation of vehicles on number basis; bypass construction pending for long should be completed to stop trucks from coming within the precincts of capital
  • Steps need to be taken to increase green cover of Delhi in the backdrop of rampant construction to accommodate high population density
  • Odd-even plan myopic in approach too since Delhi government hasn’t revealed plan of action for cars registered in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan
  • Delhi will have to implement multi-pronged programmes, aimed at improving the quality of its urban habitats and surroundings

Logistical Nightmare

The even-odd car scheme seeks to regulate over 75 lakh vehicles, registered in Delhi, growing at the rate of 1,500 a day. It will be for an initial fortnight’s trial. Some 8,000 traffic policemen are expected to retain their sanity while monitoring this.

They are also tasked to let off badly maintained buses belching clouds of black smoke, in fact the government will add many more to cope; three-wheelers, perhaps two-wheelers too, taxis, plain and radio-callable ones, other public transport, plus unstoppable ambulances and hearses. 

The even-odd car scheme seeks to regulate over 75 lakh vehicles, registered in Delhi, growing at the rate of 1,500 a day. (Photo: Reuters)
The even-odd car scheme seeks to regulate over 75 lakh vehicles, registered in Delhi, growing at the rate of 1,500 a day. (Photo: Reuters)

The Delhi government hasn’t yet pronounced on what it proposes to do with all the cars registered in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

What Needs to be Done

Importantly, there is no green remedy proposed to address over 80,000 highly polluting trucks, that stream in and through Delhi every night. These leave high levels of smog laden pollution by dawn.

Clearly, beyond the tamasha planned for the private cars, come January 1, 2016, much more needs to be done. Urgent construction of the long pending bypass roads for the trucks that presently drive through need to get out of the planning stages and swiftly implemented.

Truck depots outside the city, languishing for decades, need to be made functional. Fifteen-year-old vehicles, both commercial and light, must be compulsorily retired. Highly polluting two-stroke engined vehicles should be taken off the street.

Polluting industries, power plants, grim land-fills, and mountains of garbage have to be revamped and relocated. Some, like the malodorous industries in UP’s Sahibabad, which contribute to some of the highest particulate matter readings in colonies across the way, in Delhi, want to be sanitised.

Truck depots outside Delhi, languishing for decades, need to be made functional.(Photo: Reuters)
Truck depots outside Delhi, languishing for decades, need to be made functional.(Photo: Reuters)

Modern Town Planning

What seems obvious, however, is that a comprehensive and modern approach to town planning, inclusive of massive reforestation, creation of large new open spaces, to act as the city’s lungs, has been and is still totally missing in action.

This, even as India’s population explodes, ever since the inheritance of 1947.

Whatever green space Delhi does have today, and this is ironically much more than other Indian cities, is left over from colonial times. Under Indian management, green areas and water bodies/lakes have actually shrunk. 

Instead, unauthorised colonies have grown, on the edges of the ever expanding city. These are ugly and unplanned, lack basic amenities, exhibit highly unsanitary and dangerous conditions.

But instead of sorting them into habitable and organised spaces afresh, they are being regularised on an ad hoc as-is-where-is basis.

Where’s the Green Intervention?

Floor area regulations for constructed buildings, their heights and footprints in Delhi are also being raised to cater to much higher population density. Mixed areas that permit commercial and residential use together, are also being enhanced, in response to various lobbies and intercessions.

A labourer works at the construction site of a residential complex in Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, August 20, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)
A labourer works at the construction site of a residential complex in Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, August 20, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Statistically though, each green intervention to improve matters is bound to yield some limited results; but to get this right, Delhi will have to implement multi-pronged programmes, aimed at improving the quality of its urban habitats and surroundings.

This merits serious consideration, because 55% of Indians now live in the cities. And if this is the sorry and intractable state of the nation’s capital, what hope is there for others, including the 100 proposed ‘smart cities’ around the country?

(Gautam Mukherjee is a plugged-in commentator and instant analyser.)

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