Delhi air pollution: As odd-even plan falls through, tussle over exemptions highlights challenges in solving current crisis
The odd-even scheme can't be implemented without exemptions for two-wheelers to curb air pollution in Delhi because its public transport system won't be able to bear additional commuters, says the government
The hurdle faced by the Delhi government in implementing the odd-even scheme shows the challenges in controlling air pollution in the national capital. Even though the NGT ordered the Delhi government to implement odd-even without any exemption on Saturday, the state government had to roll back its decision to implement the same. It saw the socio-economic costs of enforcing it without exemption too high for Delhi to bear.
Arunodoy Prakash, media advisor to Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia told Firstpost that Delhi’s present public transport system cannot bear the gargantuan load of additional commuters that the lack of exemption to two-wheelers would cause.
"More than 32 lakh people travel by bikes every day in Delhi. If they are not exempted from the odd-even scheme, they may shift to public transportation system. Delhi’s public transportation cannot take that load. We needed to exempt them from the odd-even scheme," he said.
As per a Times of India report more than 32 lakhs people commute by buses every day. The report also says that the capital city needs more than 10,000 buses to meet its present demand. An additional over 26 lakh commuters use the metro rail. Adding another wave of commuters may result in the collapse of the public transportation system.
Another reason given by the Aam Admi Party-led government to provide the exemption was women’s safety.
Speaking with Firstpost, AAP MLA, Anil Bajpai said, "We cannot compromise on the issue of women’s safety. If the odd-even scheme is allowed without any exemption, women’s safety might be at risk."
Though both the arguments to offer the exemptions under the odd-even are serious ones, people who moved NGT against the odd-even scheme say the exemptions are nothing but the politics of the AAP-led government.
"The class of people who ride two-wheelers is the vote bank of AAP. If this class is not exempted than they fear that it might turn against the party," alleges Gaurav Kumar Bansal, the advocate of appellant Mahendra Pandey.
The Delhi government intended to provide exemptions in 13 categories including two-wheelers and vehicles that are driven by women.
In fact, exemptions provided by the Delhi government was one of main the issues raised in the NGT against the odd-even scheme.
"What are the justifications for exempting two-wheelers from odd-even? These are a serious contributor to Delhi’s emissions accounting for 46 percent of the total air pollution," the NGT said as reported by the Hindustan Times.
The NGT also termed the odd-even scheme with these exemptions a farce as the Delhi government also failed to provide data related to its usefulness from its earlier experiences. The pollution control measure was implemented twice in Delhi in 2016 when air pollution level reached hazardous levels.
The NGT had to allow the odd-even scheme as it is a measure advised by the Supreme Court of India-mandated Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA). In pursuant to an apex court order dated 3 December, 2016, a graded response action plan (GRAP) was prepared to tackle the capital's air pollution problem.
The EPCA recommended measures to be taken to control air pollution. The odd-even scheme is one of the measures to be implemented when the pollution level crosses the severe level as per this plan.
On Saturday, the NGT decided to allow the odd-even scheme with the rider that no exemption except health emergency would be permitted; the EPCA mandate also has a clause which says that exemptions in the odd-even scheme should be minimised.
Significantly, the odd-even scheme was the only pollution control measure mentioned in the severe category of the GRAP, which the Delhi government could implement on its own right. The other two pollution control measures to be opted for, when the air quality level crosses severe level mentioned in the GRAP are stopping entry of trucks into Delhi and stopping all construction activities.
Stopping trucks from entering Delhi is nearly impossible for the government as there is no alternative for these heavy vehicles to pass by without entering the capital city. The Centre rolled out a scheme to construct an Eastern Peripheral Highway to allow the trucks go to Punjab and Uttar Pradesh without entering the capital. The road is still being constructed and is unlikely to be completed before March 2018, which is its latest deadline
On the other hand, the measure to stop construction activities is also to be implemented along with the co-operation of the Centre. The construction of roads is a turnaround scheme of the present regime at the Centre and many such construction projects going on in the capital are carried out by the National Highway Authority of India.
With the NGT ordering the Delhi government to implement the odd-even scheme without any exemption, the state government is left with no other option but to drop the plan and thus losing the only chance to prove it’s sincerity to the cause of controlling toxic air pollution in the city.
The situation has highlighted some of the real hurdles in solving Delhi's air pollution problem.
After the NGT order, the Delhi government is pursuing its previously declared plan to sprinkle water in Delhi from helicopters. “We are asking the Centre that it should allow us to sprinkle water from the skies with choppers. We are trying our best to convince the Centre. Let us hope that it listens to us this time," said Bajpai.
He also said that the Delhi government would approach the NGT to review its order and to permit a few exemptions including the two-wheelers. Till then the odd-even scheme is unlikely to be rolled out.
After the Delhi government decided to implement the odd-even scheme following severe levels of air pollution in Delhi, the NGT received more petitions against the move.
The odd-even scheme is a pollution control measure which allows vehicles ply around on the roads of Delhi on every alternate day depending on whether their registration numbers ends with an odd number of an even number. The Delhi government was planning to implement the scheme for five days starting 13 (Monday) to 17 November.
After the NGT passed the order to implement the odd-even scheme without any exemption, Vardhaman Kaushik, another appellant in the case told Firstpost that only the will of the people can solve the problem of air pollution in the national capital.
"People’s awareness in preserving the environment is the only solution. No court order can save us from pollution if it is not implemented as ordered," he said.
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