Year 2016 opens with a test of resolve for us Delhiites. The question for us is blunt and unambiguous: do we have it in us to take control of our lives and make it better? As the odd-even formula plays out on the roads from today, the choice for us is limited indeed. We have to cooperate or live with the guilt of not being responsible in a matter that concerns our health and that of our children. This formula is no silver bullet for the gargantuan air pollution problem the city faces; it’s not even a half-way measure given all those exemptions, but it’s a small beginning towards a much bigger end.
Representational image. Reuters
Keeping half the vehicles off the roads is no big deal if we decide to give it a try. Yes, many of us have been cynical about the idea for some time now. We know there would be problems for all of us for a few days. We have already raised many doubts in courts and public forums. But now that it’s upon us, let’s keep all that behind us. If we clear the test this time this will be a tribute to our fabled collective spirit. Delhi, are you game?
Around 8.5 million vehicles clog Delhi's roads and 1,400 new cars are being added every day. This has contributed to Delhi being the most polluted among 1,600 cities in the world that were surveyed by the World Health Organisation last year.
Delhi is the most polluted city in the world. Its 20 million population is exposed every day to over 153 micrograms per cubic metre of 2.5 particulate matter -- between 15 to 20 times higher than what is desirable according to the World Health Organisation. The pollution levels have reached so alarming proportions that the Delhi High Court had to observe that living in the city was akin "living in a gas chamber. The court asked the state government to take strict measures to reduce pollution levels.
According to the Delhi government, the city has 20 lakh registered cars. As many as 1,400 vehicles are being added to the existing stock everyday. As per a study carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), about 10 percent of the urban land of the city is used up by stationary vehicles. It is a little less than the city’s forest cover, which is around 11.5 percent of the total land. The situation, experts say, will be more chaotic in future with as many as 1.6 lakh new vehicles getting on the city’s roads every year with no corresponding increase in space to accommodate them.
Over the last decade, the vehicular population in Delhi has registered a phenomenal growth of 97 percent to 81 lakh – 25 lakh two-wheelers and rest four wheelers. Out of the total number of registered vehicles, 60 lakh are privately owned. These remain parked most of the time and meet only 15 percent of Delhi’s travel needs, they say, adding the city needs an area as big as 360 football fields to take in the new vehicles.
Challenges to be overcome
At present, the fleet strength of Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) stands at 4,705 for 45 lakh commuters. There are only 2,506 non-AC and 1,275 AC low floor buses. Each bus makes 10 trips a day on an average and maintenance of these buses is a big task. On an average, at least 600 break downs are reported on these buses everyday, which means that at least half of these buses are out of the day’s schedule. In actual operational terms, not even 4,705 buses are on the roads everyday. In the morning shift, which sees maximum number of buses being put into service, only 4,200 buses are out as scheduled on an average. In the evening, this number goes down to barely 3,800. To cope with the extra pressure on the public transport network, Delhi's government has hired around 3,000 private buses to provide shuttle services into the city from residential areas. This is according to a PIL in the high court.
Schools have been ordered to remain closed until the trial ends on January 15 so that their buses can be pressed into action. Four hundred private schools have challenged this decision in high court, which has said no school can be forced to provide its buses for the experiment. The DTC has been waiting for 1,380 buses for over two years even though funds were approved by previous governments. There is only one bus to cater to thousands of commuters here.
The Delhi Metro still covers only 12 percent of the area of the city within walking distance. Many such metro projects, which are under construction, are delayed.
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, according to PTI, has decided to make 70 additional trips during the odd-even trial period, taking the number of daily trips to 3,192, that will lead to a marginal increase in the frequency of its services to tackle an expected rush of passengers. These have been distributed over Red, Blue, Yellow and Orange (Airport Express) lines with 12, 11, 17 and 30 additional trips respectively. According to data provided by Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), the total number of trips undertaken in November stood at 3,122.
DMRC, which has in its fleet 220 trains, will be using 198 trains daily to achieve the target. "We will be pressing into service the maximum number of trains possible operationally during this period keeping only the essential maintenance reserve," a metro official said. Accordingly, the highest train frequency on Blue Line (Line 3/4), that connects Dwarka to Noida City Centre, would be 2 minutes 30 seconds (between 9-10 AM). The same would be 2 mins 18 secs on Line 2, that connects Samaypur Badli to Gurgaon's Huda City Centre. During off-peak hours (11 am to 5 pm), trains would run at an interval of 2 minutes 42 seconds on Blue Line while the same would be 2 mins 40 secs on Yellow Line, a slight improvement over the existing timings. On 28 August, DMRC had carried its highest ever ridership of over 32 lakhs with an operational fleet of 196 trains.
Delhi is surrounded by small cities commonly known as National Capital Region (NCR). An NCR is metropolitan area that encompasses the entire National Capital territory of Delhi, which includes New Delhi, as well as urban areas surrounding it in neighbouring states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. NCR is India’s largest and one of the world’s largest agglomerations with a population of over 47,000,000 as per the 2011 Census. Located in different states such as Uttar Pradesh and Haryana and each state is differently developed. All have infrastructure and connectivity problems. Millions reach Delhi from these districts for work from Noida to Gurgaon and vice versa. Further, these satellite districts were developed with the main motive to provide impetus to industries. And most importantly, these districts provide employment to several persons.
A majority of places in Delhi or in the satellite towns are not well connected with public transport and the only option is a private vehicle. If the scheme of odd and even numbers is implemented every alternate day, don’t you think that the satellite towns and districts will become inaccessible to several persons who do not have the registration number of the vehicle which is applicable on that given day? The connectivity with Delhi from Noida and Ghaziabad is primarily through cars. Everyday, nearly 1,10,000 cars travel between these cities. If the scheme is implemented, it will render 55,000 of the cars plying between the cities ineligible for driving.
Now, take a look at the connectivity of the satellite cities (Ghaziabad and Noida) via metro. Both Vaishali metro station in Ghaziabad and Noida City Centre, metro trains run packed in peak hours. The average daily footfall at Vaishali metro station is 40,000 and the Noida City Centre is 30,000. If all those people rendered ineligible to drive, switch to metro, the total average footfall per day will become around 60,000 at Noida and 65,000 at Vaishali. Therefore, the burden on public transport in these neighbouring cities will be beyond manageable and will lead to chaos. In addition, in the absence of clear-cut guidelines for citizens travelling through the midnight and those who are travelling from different states through the city, how will your government manage?
What Delhiites feel
"Hey, Delhi. Please follow the Odd-Even formula as it is for your and your children's health and to make your city cleaner. Let's make it a big success"—Neeraj Kumar, former Commissioner of Delhi Police.
"Make odd-even formula a success and help in developing an alternative communication system. We have to get out of our cars to free-up more road space for safe public transport, cycling and walking. There is an urgent need to protect the health of our children. All have to get out of the political discourse on this. This winter is worse than the previous year in terms of air pollution. Delhi-ites have to take the lead to bring down the peak pollution level."—Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
"Come on Delhi, do it. All eyes are set on you. The rise in pollution in Delhi is increasingly causing heart and respiratory problems for the people living here with the young and aged population being the worst hit. Chronic inflammation of the lungs and PM 2.5 has been found to be a major risk factor in heart diseases"—Dr Randeep Guleria, pulmonary specialist at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.