New Delhi: Petitioners countering the city government's odd-even number restrictions on the movement of private cars to curb pollution will on Friday have their concerns heard by a Delhi High Court bench comprising Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath.
According to the petitioners, Delhi residents have not welcomed the move — that has not reduced pollution levels in any 'noticeable way' — voluntarily, but at "gun point": The penalty of Rs 2,000.
"Compliance with the odd-even formula in the National Capital is at gun point, with of a penal fine of Rs 2,000. Pollution levels have not gone down in any noticeable way as per reports by the IIT and the National Air Quality Index data," said Manoj Kumar, managing partner of a legal firm, Hammurabi Solomon, on whose Public Interest Litigation (PIL) the Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked the dispensation in the city to explain why one week is not enough to verify the formula's efficacy on cutting pollution.
When pointed out that although there has been minimal impact in the border areas, vehicular pollution and PM 2.5 is surely coming down in the interior areas of the city, Kumar said, "If the period is short, then the entire experiment for 15 days is flawed anyways. Every common man is affected (by the move), but the government seems to have skipped to think through whether 15 days were appropriate or six months. Also, PM 2.5 levels get impacted by diesel vehicles and construction dust. But the scheme covers all vehicles and does not cover regulating construction dust emissions. Almost all commercial vehicles and taxis run on diesel, and are allowed to ply under the scheme."
On the arguments advanced by Shweta Bharti on behalf of Kumar and co-petitioner Gunjan Khanna, a Noida-based restaurateur with businesses in Delhi, the court passed three directions to the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government on three points — seek directions from the technical experts as to whether the duration of eight days is sufficient to assess and make the statistical, empirical research on the matter; produce all the data collected so far in the eight days by the technical experts and produce it before the court; and get the data of all the cabs plying on the roads of Delhi and whether they are running on CNG or diesel, as well as the increase in number of taxis in Delhi.
Asked if the reservations raised by them in their PIL do not stand defeated because roads are comparatively free in peak hours with the easing of traffic after the implementation of the government's "pilot project", he said traffic congestion has reduced because people are "forced to leave their vehicles at home by compulsion".
"The issues raised in the PIL still remain the centre point. The odd-even formula has not been thought through. Without an NCR (National Capital Region) policy and implementation , pollution remains where it was. Without adequate alternatives of public transport, people continue to suffer because of lack of public transport and its poor quality," said Kumar describing the experiment — which is in effect for 15 days till 15 January — as "failed".
Asked about the problems with the experiment over a short period, he replied that "it (the odd-even formula) lacked rationale and qualitative thinking through – which is showing that there is no connection/nexus between the scheme and the objective for which it was initiated".
On a question that the judges of the Supreme Court, including the CJI, are also participating in the odd-even plan by carpooling — despite being exempt from the policy — to make the implementation of the formula a success, Kumar argues "...when we talk about people across Delhi being affected, flagging important dignitaries as example is misleading as they may not be similarly placed compared to most the resident here – distance of travel, synergies with carpooling, travelling on one off assignments or works relating to business through the day etc."
The government has claimed that it has decided to make it a 15-day long programme so that it can gather sufficient data which can be better looked into and prepare a blueprint further. What is the problem in bearing it for a fortnight because it is concerned to people's health?
"Anything for public good is welcome but should have a rational nexus with the objective. The government seems to have skipped all relevant reports by various stakeholders like IIT and wants to run up its own assessment. Even that is welcome when there is no data at all. This experiment has turned Delhi in an experiment lab. Affecting fundamental rights of citizens, which is not permissible unless it is within the framework of the constitution," Kumar said.
The experiment of the odd-even formula did not go down well with the high court hearing the PIL on Thursday described the status report filed by the Delhi government as "vague".
The government, in its report, told the court that the purpose of the entire exercise is to study the effectiveness and efficacy of restricting vehicular movement in reduction of air pollution and improvement of the air quality. "The reduction in number of four wheelers helps decrease the congestion on roads, which has a positive effect on vehicular pollution control," Peeyoosh Kalra, additional standing counsel (civil), representing the government, told the court.
He also said "inclusion of two wheelers under the scheme will be considered in case such restrictions are required to be imposed in the future".
On the question raised by the court earlier on exemption given to women and two-wheelers, the government argued it is "committed to providing security to women". "Since cars shall ply on alternative days according to their registration numbers being odd or even, it is perceived that there shall be rush in the public transport i.e. metro and buses. Hence, the exemption for women-only vehicle have been given to ensure that there is no compromise on women safety," said the status report.
On exemption to two-wheelers, it said, "...a major portion of population uses two-wheelers. In cases of people using cars, it was expected that the people would resort to carpooling since the seating capacity in cars is minimum four-five people. However, in case of two-wheelers pooling would have been a limited option and it was expected that around 60 percent to 70 percent of the population would have to resort to public transport, which - as per available infrastructure - is not sufficient to cater such a huge demand.