Those laughing at the Delhi government's decision to restrict the number of vehicles on roads should know this: The joke is really on them.
The sooner they realise that they are living in a gas chamber and need to make drastic changes to their mindsets and lifestyles, the better it would be for them and their future generations. Cynical attitude will only feed the cancerous tumour of pollution, leading all of us to our calamitous tryst with destiny.
Let us get this straight: Arvind Kejriwal is trying to save Delhi and its condemned citizens from a calamity. That Delhi's air will soon turn into poison and choke us is a fait-accompli. Somebody will have to clean it, if not us, then the generation that follows. Drastic measures can be deferred — at huge costs — but they are inevitable.
At the cost of incurring the wrath of political rivals, and amid mounting criticism, the Kejriwal government is at least trying to act before it is too late. If it manages to find a solution, the Delhi model could become a paradigm for other cities to follow. The Delhi government deserves cheers and cooperation, not jeers.
What is so amusing about the idea of banning cars on alternate days on the basis of their registration numbers?
It is not a Talibani idea — as some have argued — but a concept inspired by reasonably successful implementation in many developed countries.
In Sao Paulo, for instance, vehicle rotation system based on registration numbers has been prevalent for over a decade, leading to emulation by many Latin American governments.
In 2008, after its successful trial before the Olympics, a system of road-rationing system based on licence plates was made mandatory in Beijing. The effects of the rotation system are well documented. According to studies in Beijing, the emission levels came down to 40 percent after the system was introduced. There were, of course, the other tangible benefits: lesser vehicles on roads, decreased demand for fuel and a minor drop in road accidents.
And, people loved it. One survey in Beijing revealed that 95 percent of the people supported the restrictions because they believed they were meant to make their lives better.
So, if Latin American countries can implement the idea, if Beijing can be happy with the system, why can't Delhi accept it?
The main problem is with the mindset. It doesn't occur to many of us that both road and air are common public resources; they are not our private assets.
We can live in gated communities, drink packaged water, may even consume home-grown vegetables, fruits and grains but nobody in this world can have his own brand of air or walk on his private road. Everybody, regardless of caste, creed, religious identity, economic status has to breathe the same air and travel on the same road.
Since all of us have equal rights to this resource, we have equal responsibilities. This is precisely why the argument that people will get around this restriction by buying a new car with a different registration number smacks of selfishness and irresponsibility.
We may use the resources common to us, but we don't have the right to exploit and destroy those.
Those who harbour such intentions should be treated as enemies of the environment and also of those who own this common resource: We the people.
Instead of resorting to hand-wringing because some self-centred citizens wish to flout the proposed restrictions, the government should ensure that owning additional vehicles doesn't become rewarding, but is made an environmental offence.
Perhaps, it can take a leaf out of Beijing's book and implement regulations that discourage needless buying of vehicles in cities so that the masses do not suffer due to the myopia of the self-centred, irresponsible classes.
The biggest challenge for the government, of course, would be to ensure that restrictions are implemented without creating problems for people. If the use of private vehicles is to be discouraged, it should be simultaneously accompanied by a plan for ensuring last-mile connectivity via public transport, initiatives for carpooling, use of non-polluting modes of commuting and safe tracks for walking and cycling.
When restrictions are placed on such a large scale, their implementation becomes a massive challenge. In India, it could also lead to large-scale corruption and harassment by those who will have the powers to implement the new measures. Kejriwal will have to ensure that less traffic on roads doesn't automatically lead to more money for corrupt traffic cops.
But, the challenges should not deter the government from prescribing these life-saving measures.
And those opposing them should know that they are like boiling frogs: Instead of laughing, they should do something to save themselves from a gruesome end.
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Updated Date: Dec 05, 2015 15:29:33 IST