The second phase of the odd-even scheme rolled out by the Arvind Kejriwal government from 15 April is proving to be extremely unpopular with the people of Delhi. Neither has the second phase brought down Delhi’s pollution levels, nor has it reduced traffic snarls across the city, making residents impatient and unhappy at a time when travelling around the city is anyway a strenuous exercise because of the scorching summer heat. The sale of fuel-guzzling cheap second-hand cars, with the number plate of one’s choice has increased and many vehicles have been converted to CNG, as a result of which the volume of traffic on city roads has not come down. According to the scheme, CNG cars are exempted from being penalised.
Shyam Lal, a West Delhi businessman who has a shop in Patel Nagar, now travels in auto-rickshaws on alternate days from his residence in Ramesh Nagar. He lashed out at the Kejriwal government, describing the odd-even scheme as a “publicity stunt”. “How can he (Kejriwal) arbitrarily impose this upon the people? Infrastructure for public transport has still not been adequately developed and this is the second phase, so what was the trial phase for? There are other issues like industrial pollution, pollution from dust, etc., which also need to be addressed. Cars contribute to just 20%, or less, of the pollution,” said an angry Lal.
Ashmika Bhalla, a resident of Pusa Road, who had come to drop her daughter to Springdales School in Karol Bagh, too was critical of the odd-even scheme. “This government seems confused. They had exempted parents carrying children in school uniform, but parents are being challaned while returning after dropping their kids. This is ridiculous. Were they sleeping for the past three months that they could not come out with a better solution? Usually, my husband comes to drop our daughter, but because of the odd-even plan, I am bringing her on even days as our car is odd,” Bhalla said.
Some Delhiites have found a way of getting around the inconvenience being caused by the odd-even scheme. Following the rollout of the second phase, the sale of second-hand cars and conversion of cars to CNG have increased drastically. Lokesh Munjal, president of the Moti Nagar Car Dealers’ Association told The Sunday Guardian, “Second-hand car sales have picked up significantly in April. People having odd-numbered cars are looking for even-numbered ones and vice-versa. Many people who have two odd-numbered or two even-numbered cars are coming to exchange their cars. However, we have not increased the prices of second-hand cars much.”
According to Habiba, who works in Gurgaon, the odd-even scheme has increased inconvenience, while failing to curb either pollution or traffic jams. “While coming back from work, I literally had to wait for over 25 minutes for a cab. Despite the odd-even scheme in place, the traffic at the Delhi-Gurgaon border was moving at a snail’s pace. Pollution levels are also not showing any significant drop. This is a useless scheme and is only creating chaos and panic among residents,” she added.
Moving around different parts of the city, this correspondent came across several violators of the scheme, but the Delhi government’s Civil Defence volunteers did nothing to stop them. One of the Civil Defence volunteers on Simon Bolivar Marg said, “We cannot risk our lives by moving between running cars to catch someone. We can stop them only if they are on our side of the road. Moreover, we do not have the authority to challan them, so there is no point catching them. They will get caught somewhere else.”
The high volume of challans being issued to violators also testifies to Delhities’ thumbs down to the odd-even scheme this time. According to enforcement officials of the Transport Department and Delhi Police, most of the violations are happening near the border areas and in south Delhi. A Transport Department official said, “We have issued several challans this time. Violators have increased manifold. Traffic jams were also noticed because people have started buying a second car.”
A common complaint is that vehicles in Delhi already have to follow clean fuel norms and have to be checked every three months for pollution: with a majority of vehicles having pollution-checked certificates, commuters say that it is unfair that their vehicles are being made to sit out on alternate days.
According to Anumita Roy Choudhury, executive director of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), “Currently, there are many exemptions in the scheme and as such, its scope is limited. The Delhi government should control dust pollution and manage waste effectively, among several other steps. The odd-even scheme alone cannot be the solution for cleaner air in Delhi.”
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government has, however, refuted claims that the scheme is not a success. Gopal Rai, Delhi Transport Minister, has said that traffic jams have been witnessed because of the additional 1.64 lakh vehicles that have been added to the roads since January. He also said that an additional 20,000 cars in the CNG segment have also been added, which could have increased traffic jams. The AAP has accused the opposition BJP of trying to derail the odd-even scheme. A source close to Rai hinted to this newspaper that the Delhi government might make the scheme permanent.