Odd Even Fixation
Election eve gimmickry can’t substitute governance. AAP’s patented solution for pollution isn’t convincing
Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party government has sprung a surprise by announcing an odd-even vehicle rationing scheme for early November when pollution usually peaks. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has cited the gas chamber effect in Delhi due to paddy stubble burning in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana to justify his seven-point action plan “to protect ourselves”. However, the advance notice for the odd-even scheme, implemented twice in 2016 and then abandoned, is surprising. For one, there is no agreement among experts on the scheme’s efficacy despite its disruption of normal traffic.
Second, Delhi-NCR’s Graded Response Action Plan lists this as an “emergency” measure to be rolled out only when PM2.5/PM10 concentration crosses “Severe+” levels of 300/500 μg/m3 respectively. Deploying a last-line measure as a default pollution control strategy doesn’t speak well of public policy. There was much Delhi government could have learnt from the scheme’s first two editions. In areas not serviced by the Delhi metro, the absence of buses were keenly felt. Delhi’s DTC bus fleet has shrunk from a high of 6,329 in 2010 to a decadal low of 3,781 today. This statistic does not inspire confidence in the city government’s zeal to tackle pollution.
An odd-even scheme is no substitute for better governance which would have ensured more buses on roads, better pollution compliance by vehicles, and improved coordination with neighbouring states. Token gestures which grab attention in election season and unabashed populism like distributing free N95 masks distract from the causes of winter pollution spikes in north India. Stubble burning and Diwali firecrackers are clear man-made contributors to the toxic mix with no economic/ environmental/ public health rationale for continuing these practices – unlike, say, driving a vehicle to work.
Attempts to wean people away from firecrackers by awareness campaigns fronted by celebrities or the Delhi government’s proposed laser-shows on Diwali eve can help. Even the plan to sanitise 12 local pollution hotspots in Delhi holds promise. Centre also has a key role to play in curbing stubble burning by incentivising happy seeder machines and egging Punjab and Haryana governments to shore up their monitoring mechanisms. Bans, to which politicians of all hues have an inexplicable fixation, really solves nothing despite the brouhaha. In the month ahead, Centre and governments in north Indian states must work on a war footing to chip away at the sources of pollution.