By Vikas Khanna
New Delhi, Jan. 10 (ANI): Chaos will return to the roads of Delhi from January 16 as Transport Minister Gopal Rai announced an end to road rationing experiment. What was proving to be a game changer should not have been discontinued so abruptly. Even the government, which introduced the plan on a trial basis, must have been surprised by the positive outcome.
The doomsayers were proved wrong. Delhiites should be patted for their overwhelming response to the government’s odd-even car policy on alternate days. None had expected that the policy would be a runaway success given the huge opposition to the proposal. It was a bold idea whose success depended largely on the compliance of the people. Such a radical decision could not be enforced through the rule of law only.
But what appeared to be a herculean task has been made easier by the people of Delhi. It proves that the people are aware of the dangers of pollution levels which had crossed manifold beyond the permissible limits. Delhi earning the sobriquet of the most polluted city of the world was something that had started troubling the conscience of the people. The common man was worried. The courts were disturbed. Environmentalists were red-flagging the issue. Enough is enough, remarked the National Green Tribunal (NGT) as it banned all vehicles older than 15 years from the roads of Delhi. The aggrieved rushed to the courts against the order. Gladly, the Supreme Court trashed the petitions and lauded the efforts of NGT.
But the NGT order was not enough in arresting the galloping pollution levels of Delhi. The order, which comes into effect from April 1 this year, will bar a third of an estimated 8.4 million vehicles, including motorbikes, trucks, cars and three-wheelers. It needed to be supplemented with more harsh measures in a city where 1,500 new vehicles are added on to the roads every day. The Arvind Kejriwal government then decided to bite the bullet. An idea, which was doing the rounds for the last several years but was deemed unenforceable and impractical, was put into practice on a trial method for a fortnight. The government decided to implement the stringent measure to allow vehicles with licence plate numbers ending in an odd or even number to ply on alternate days. It was an idea, which critics gave thumbs down even before it was put in place. It was also supposed to ruffle the feathers of many who were loath to the idea of using public transport.
But Delhiites had made up their mind. It’s now or never. The idea was a success from day one. All of a sudden, Delhi resembled a new city. Roads looked wider. Commuting became hassle-free. The average speed of a vehicle almost doubled. The travel time got reduced significantly. There was peace of mind. No more unnecessary and irritating honking. Road rage appeared to be a thing of the past. And there was a sharp drop in the number of road accidents. Nobody was complaining. A city re-born!
Experts said there was drastic fall in pollution levels, even up to 30 percent. Had the weather not played spoilsport, there would have been tell-tale signs of results.
But such positive developments did not cheer car-makers and petrol pump dealers. The gas stations registered a sharp drop in the daily sales of petrol and diesel. If some reports are to be believed, petrol and diesel sales registered a drastic fall of 30 to 35 percent in Delhi. That itself is a proof of the success of the car rationing policy. The lesser usage of fuel means lesser pollution. Nevertheless, the car makers approached the Supreme Court again to lift the ban it had imposed on fresh registration of diesel vehicles with at least 2,000 cc engines in Delhi and National Capital Region till April 1. But the apex court stood its ground and refused to amend its earlier order.
It is sad that some lobbies are active again and pressuring courts and the Delhi Government to abandon the path-breaking initiative. Are commercial considerations bigger than the health of Delhi which is gasping for breath? The newborns of Delhi are battling severe allergies and asthma. Don’t we have any responsibility towards them?
Delhi has set a wonderful example. The 12 other cities of India out of a list of the world’s 20 most polluted cities named by the World Health Organisation should replicate Delhi’s campaign to improve air quality for a clean environment for their citizens. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has announced several campaigns, should also pitch in his efforts as his government has undertaken to develop 98 smart cities. No city can be smart as long as its air is dirty. The challenge for Delhi was huge as it has the highest number of vehicles in the country, more than three other metros — Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai — put together. When Delhi can do it, so can any other Indian city.
[Vikas Khanna is a senior journalist and the views expressed by him are personal] (ANI)