In 2016, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI),released by Yale University ranked India 141 out of the 180 countries it surveyed. The report also showed that the quality of air is deteriorating in fast developing economies such as India and China, wherein 50% of China’s and 75% of India’s population is faced with unsafe levels of fine particulate matter saturation (PM2.5 and PM10).
Another report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), surveyed 103 countries over the time span of 8 years (from 2008 – 2015) which projected 10 Indian cities on the list of the most polluted cities of the world. Additionally, a study by Green Peace on air pollution in Indian cities showed that India suffers from 1.2 million deaths every year due to outdoor air pollution, which leads to an approximate loss of 3% of gross domestic product (GDP). This report further reveals that the entire country is troubled with a public health crisis owing to poor air conditions and other than a few south Indian cities no city meets the standards set by the WHO.
These statistics show an extremely alarming situation as exposure to such unsafe and blaring levels of air pollution affects health of millions, the most vulnerable being infants, children and older population that end up suffering with various kinds of respiratory diseases. Against this backdrop and information through research statistics conducted by several organizations, it is pertinent to study the various policies implemented to fight air pollution in Delhi, especially the implementation of the ‘odd - even’ rule of the Delhi administration and analyze whether this intervention had any positive affect on the health crisis of the residents.
According to a press release by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), owing to the rising levels of air pollution the following measures for abatement have been implemented by the ministry:
- Launch of the clean India mission i.e. “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”
- Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016
- Implementation of Bharat Stage IV norms in 63 Indian cities and Bharat Stage III norms in the rest of the cities
- Launch of the National Air Quality Index, initially with only 10 cities
- Ban on leaves and biomass burning
- High priority towards public private partnership for maintaining lane discipline, carpooling and vehicle maintenance
In January 2016, the Government of Delhi launched the ‘odd – even’ scheme. It was implemented from 1st January 2016 to 15th January 2016. The scheme was applied to privately owned four wheeler vehicles running on diesel and petrol fuels and restricted usage of these vehicles on alternate days depending on the last digit of the car registration number (odd or even). During this intervention period schools were shut and few other vehicles such as public transport, two wheelers, CNG operated public and private vehicles were given exemption on operation. To make this move feasible, the administration increased the available public transport with Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) adding 3000 more buses to the existing platoon. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) increased the frequency of their services, which led to an increase in usage of public transport facilities by private vehicle commuters. There was an increase in both channels, the DTC reported a usage by 3.8 million on weekdays, whereas the DMRC witnessed an increase of 2.7 million on weekdays.
A report by Greenstone (which analysed the results of this scheme) concluded that with there being some impacts, there was an hourly reduction in concentration of particulate matter of air pollution by 10-13%. Another report by the Energy Policy Institute, University of Chicago, analyzed that the levels of pollution have increased in January, 2016 in comparison to December 2015 as there was absolute increase in the NCR region but Delhi saw a smaller increase in pollution, which to an extent can be attributed to the odd-even scheme. Another point, which the report explicitly mentions is that particulate matter has many sources such as: thermal power plants, construction activity, road dust, vehicles, burning of solid fuel for cooking or heating purposes and trash burning. It is also attributed to weather conditions, low wind speeds and low temperature increase the concentration of particulate matter, which is a characteristic of Delhi weather from November to January. Therefore, vehicular pollution is not the only source of high pollution levels in Delhi as there are more contributory factors that need the same attention for getting resolved.
A report by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) says that the decrease in the level of pollutants can to an extent be owed to the 21% decrease in the number of the cars but was majorly to the changing weather conditions that prevailed in Delhi during those harrowing months. It also added that this scheme had resulted more in the reduction of traffic congestion along with an increase in car speeds as on the National Highway 24, cars saw 15 - 20% increase in speed.
The scheme after a two week trial was again introduced from 15th to April 30th, 2016. TERI, again launched a detailed analysis of the scheme. It projected that phase I witnessed more reduction in terms of amount of cars on the road and traffic congestion, which is explained by an increase in speed of cars in comparison to phase II.
Fig. 1 : Percentage reduction in cars and percentage increase in speeds during the two phases of the odd even scheme
Source: The Energy and Resources Institute
Phase II saw a 4% decrease in PM 2.5, which is lower than the 7% reduction attributed by the phase I, given better conditions in phase II, summer v/s winters. The report is concluded by mentioning that the major contribution of the scheme is the awareness it has raised in the public, but phase II did not witness great effects. This could also be due to purchasing of second cars, installation of CNG kits or increased usage of cab services. It suggests that if this scheme is regularized it may dampen the impact aimed to create.
As several research studies have pointed many things on the success and failures of the odd-even scheme, it is obvious that an in-depth study is required to understand the various external effects of the scheme before completely attributing all the success to it. Other interventions to reduce air pollution is the need of the hour as world experiment on the odd even scheme showed that its implementation in Mexico was a big fiasco and exacerbated the pollution problem since people took to purchasing more vehicles.
International learning like implementation of congestion pricing could be considered, which was successfully applied in London and Singapore. This method suggests charging a road fee for usage during rush hours, the fee varies on the hour. It has been successful in these cities as it reduced the congestion and pollution at its peak hours. Furthermore, vehicles are not the only source, other sources need to be investigated and remedies need to be suggested for the same. This problem is alarming and requires immediate action and utmost public awareness.
(This article has been contributed by Tanvi Bagadiya who is currently pursuing BSc Economics from Symbiosis School of Economics, Pune)