As the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government's much talked about odd-even car policy's trial period comes to an end on Friday, debates are on about how effective the scheme really was.
The Delhi government now needs to decide whether this policy will have a second phase. On Wednesday, Delhi Transport minister Gopal Rai had said that a review meeting will decide on the second phase of the odd-even scheme.
Speaking on the fate of second phase of odd-even scheme, Rai had said that a review meeting to be chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been called on Monday.
"In the review meeting, we will review the impact of the last 15 days during odd-even car rationing scheme. On the basis of review, a final decision on the future of odd-even scheme will be taken. Apart from this, we will discuss measures to make Delhi pollution-free," Rai had said.
As the fate of the odd-even scheme hangs in the balance, here's a look at what the scheme was, how its implementation unfolded and whether people felt it was effective.
What is the odd-even scheme?
On 3 December, the Delhi High Court - after observing that the air pollution levels in the national capital had reached "alarming" proportions and it was akin to "living in a gas chamber" — had directed the Centre and city government to present comprehensive action plans to combat it.
A day later, the Delhi government announced that it will restrict the amount of vehicles on the road by allowing cars with odd and even number plates to run on roads only on respective odd and even dates. The measures were announced following an emergency meeting chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
It was also announced that all private vehicles, even having registration numbers issued by neighbouring states, will have to follow the odd-even number formula.
Emergency services and public transport will not be under the ambit of the restriction, Delhi Dialogue Commission Vice Chairperson Ashish Khetan had said, while noting that the idea has been borrowed from foreign countries.
Other important features of the scheme included the following:
• Number to decide implementation was set to be based on the last digit of the vehicle as displayed on the number plate. Zero was considered an even number.
• The rule was to be applicable only between 8 am and 8 pm every day.
• Women drivers, CNG-certified vehicles, VIPs, two-wheelers, ambulances, defence vehicles and embassy vehicles were exempted from the rule.
• Sundays were exempted from the rule.
• Trucks were to be allowed inside Delhi from 10.30 pm.
• The trial run of the formula was set from 1 to 15 January.
• Delhi Metro Rail Corporation was asked to increase its frequency and extend its timing.
• Delhi government planned to get 1000 new buses in the period between December and February.
• 200 check-points in the city were to be created to check pollution levels.
The reactions and events before 1 January
Apart from the expected criticism and politically manufactured outrage which parties opposing AAP expressed against the odd-even scheme, the policy for alternate dates for odd and even cars received considerable criticism from experts.
“There are two major concerns — one, exemption given to two-wheelers and second, to women. Two-wheelers contribute to more than 30% of the total pollution caused by the vehicles. It should have also been covered under the odd-even formula. And, should there be class differentiation? Majority of women use public transport in Delhi. Government shouldn’t have given exemption to women and should have treated them at par,” Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), had said.
Environmentalists had also said that bikes and scooters emit nearly 32 percents of air pollutants generated by the transport sector in Delhi, whereas private cars are the third biggest polluter — 22 percent, after diesel-run trucks, which causes nearly 28 percent of vehicular pollution.
On 30 December, the Delhi High Court had also asked the Delhi government to clarify why women and two-wheelers were exempt from the scheme.
However, the scheme had got support from the Chief Justice of India Tirath Singh Thakur, who had said that Supreme Court judges want to help in curbing the alarming level of air pollution in the national capital.
"If a judge of Supreme Court can pool cars (with brother judges), it sends a message to the people that we have no problem," he had told reporters. "We can walk down or even take a bus."
Moreover, the judiciary played an important role in helping the odd-even scheme be implemented at a time when there was a lot of opposition against it.
On 23 December, the Delhi High Court refused to give interim stay on AAP government's plan to impose the odd-even scheme. Earlier on 10 December, the high court had also refused to pass any interim direction on the PILs against the scheme, saying, "Delhi government has proposed an idea, which is to be implemented from 1 January, 2016, on trial basis for 15 days, let them (Delhi government) try it."
The scheme also caused friction between the AAP government and the Delhi Police. On 29 December, Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi had cautioned AAP volunteers against any form of vigilantism during the trial period. Reacting sharply to the remarks, Rai had said Bassi was ill-informed and was politicising the issue. "BS Bassi has said that AAP volunteers do not interfere in the odd-even programme. He should not speak as the spokesperson of some party," Rai had said in a oblique reference to BJP.
The trial period (1 - 15 January)
Despite all the criticism, the odd-even scheme began on a positive note on 1 January as there were few violators and the scheme was implemented peacefully across Delhi.
After the implementation of the scheme, many experts also said that the scheme had, in fact, worked. They opined that less congestion in Delhi owing to the scheme was shielding people from "direct exposure" to pollutants, especially in and around areas of high car density such as traffic junctions.
Experts had also unanimously endorsed that a reduction in the volume of cars was simultaneously bringing down levels of gaseous pollutants like oxides of nitrogen, sulphur dioxide and black carbon, which is a mixture of road dust and vehicle fumes.
The Delhi government had also told the Delhi High Court that the scheme had resulted in Delhi's lowest pollution peak compared to the previous high-smog episodes this winter. The Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), appointed by the Supreme Court, had confirmed the Delhi government's claim, according to PTI.
Perhaps the biggest support to the scheme came on Thursday, when the Supreme Court refused urgent hearing of a petition challenging the AAP government's notification on the scheme and the subsequent Delhi High Court decision which upheld it.
Terming the petition as a "publicity stunt", a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur said, "There is no urgency in the matter. Let it come up in due course."
"The government is taking some steps to control the pollution. People are dying due to pollution and you are challenging it for publicity," the bench had said.
However, reports also said that even though most of the people in Delhi felt the scheme worked, a sizeable number of people also felt that autos and taxis were fleecing them and thus, did not want the scheme to continue.
An analysis by Indiaspend concluded that the scheme was not enough to significantly reduce the pollution levels in Delhi.
Although traffic was light, all but one of IndiaSpend’s 17 sensors across the National Capital Region had recorded “severe”, or the worst-possible level of air pollution, with some sensors registering record highs.
Irrespective of whether the odd-even scheme was effective or not, the fact remains that it has been influential not just in Delhi but all over India as well.
On Thursday, a PIL was filed in the Bombay High Court seeking introduction of odd-even rule for private cars on Mumbai roads on the lines of the pattern adopted in Delhi.
On the same day, St Stephen's College students vowed to adopt the odd-even formula for usage of cell phones, saying the devices are "lethal" for health as well as intellectual life.
Thus, the trial period of the odd-scheme had an impact on the nation in more ways than one.
(With agency inputs)