The odd-even challenge is back. Will Dilli-wale respond dil se once again?
Indications suggest that they will. Clearly missing this time is the mood of defiance that floated in the air — along with several toxic substances — before the implementation of the first round of the experiment. As Delhi prepares to keep half its vehicles off the roads today, protests are conspicuous by their absence. Experts opposed to the move have not painted dire scenarios yet. Judges in courts have not been bothered by lawyers; people are not complaining about the difficulties in moving heart patients to hospitals, and about their livelihoods being hit. Of course, there is still no talk of Delhi’s residents going for second vehicles to beat the odd-even menace.
The grumpy Sardarji uncle next door is not threatening not to vote for Arvind Kejriwal again.
Yes, the mood is one of acceptance. Phase one in January was not such a pain after all. There was no drastic change in the level of pollution in the city’s air — the original aim of the plan, yet it somehow made the denizens feel good. If they are saying “bring it on again” there’s reason for it. Odd-even has become a citizens' mission and full credit for it must go to the AAP government. It didn’t make the scheme appear intimidating or overbearing for the citizens. There were fines, challans alright, but there were roses and kids too to give the experiment a soft, human touch. The first phase drove home the message that even 'anarchic' governments can work wonders if they take people into confidence.
It's true, the January experiment was not a roaring success in terms of the original goal.
The toxicity in the air dipped a bit but a drastic fall is what could have enthused people more. Of course, it is known by now that vehicles are not the only source of air pollution in the city. The government has to tackle road dust, coal and fly ash, and the pollution from burning of biomass with equally urgency if it wants to make the air healthy for breathing. Moreover, odd-even, as is the experience world-wide, can only be a temporary solution. It’s an extraordinary measure to be taken in extraordinary situations.
Without initiatives to discourage people from using private vehicles, there’s little hope. The solution to that is an effective and well-laid out public transport system. That appears to be a long way off. But that is a topic for a different day.
In this phase, the exemption list is wider. Vehicles with school children in uniform are exempt. However, with nearly 50 percent of students being dropped by their parents to schools this could be a setback. In January, during the first round of the odd-even experiment, most schools were closed due to winter, It made the task of the government easier on the streets. Women are out of the ambit this time again and the list has not been pruned. If the government was hoping for a better result this time, it may not be the case. Perhaps, the government would be asked the point of going through the whole exercise once again, but right now that is not a major concern.
It would take confidence from the unintended result from the earlier experiment: easing of traffic congestion on the city’s roads. By conservative estimates, every Delhiite spends at least 30 minutes in traffic during peak hours one-way. At 60 minutes or one hour a day he/she spends approximately 15 complete days a year in traffic jams. According to traffic experts, during the implementation of the formula in January, the average speed of vehicles on the city’s roads had gone up from 19 kilometres per hour to above 25 kilometres per hour. This is because roads remained more or less empty with half the vehicles off it.
With the vehicle population growing by around 1,400 every day in the city itself, leave alone those registered in Gurugram (previously Gurgaon) and Noida, and road space remaining static, traffic congestion is a problem that the city will have to confront with all seriousness in the coming years. Some NCR cities like Gurugram are facing the heat already. It won’t be long before Delhi comes to a standstill. The January implementation of the odd-even formula gave a sense to the Delhiites about what saner traffic should be like.
These are issues that don’t render themselves to short-term solutions. The government will need to apply itself more seriously at some point sooner rather than later. For now, the AAP must focus on the immediate. A bit of Gandhigiri will also help it this time.