Odd Even Fix­a­tion

Elec­tion eve gim­mickry can’t sub­sti­tute gov­er­nance. AAP’s patented so­lu­tion for pol­lu­tion isn’t con­vinc­ing

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Ecstasy Of Ideas -

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.

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