The Chief Minister of Delhi, Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, attended a public discussion on the crucial issue of air pollution in Delhi, addressing the current odd-even scheme that has been implemented in Delhi for the second time this year.
He spoke about the exemptions that have been given to 2-wheelers in Delhi, denying that it had anything to do with his vote bank. When the odd-even scheme was implemented for the first phase, the ridership of metro and buses rose by only 0.7% and 5% respectively. This was because the people who were using private cars switched to car-pooling rather than adopting public transport. If this were the case, removing exemptions on 2-wheelers (who already pool, with mostly two riders on a 2 wheeler) would cause them to switch to public transport, adding approximately 40 lakh commuters to buses and metros.
And since the government does not have sufficient capacity in terms of public buses at the moment, according to Mr. Kejriwal, it cannot afford to remove exemptions on 2-wheelers because it would lead to “utter chaos” in buses and metros.
If we accept this logic, why doesn’t the government have sufficient public transport capacity? The biggest obstacle faced by the Delhi Government is getting land for bus depots. Currently, the land lies with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which is willing to sell the land to the government at Rs 4 crores per acre. The government needs around 500 acres of land. At this cost, they would have to spend approximately Rs 2000 crores just to buy the land.
Another huge problem facing every Delhiite is road congestion. To combat this, elevated corridors are being planned based on the public-private-partnership models similar to the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) but with better planning and elevation. It would help commuters to save time. The regular traffic of buses and two lanes in this corridor will be used for toll collection, which will then be used for covering construction costs. It is not known exactly when these corridors will be constructed but the government is aiming and hoping to take off with the bidding process this year.
The government is also working on a ‘Bus Aggregator Policy’, which would include specifications that buses should have, generating some private investment in the process. However, when BRT was constructed earlier, it was flawed due to insufficient research and improper building. Therefore, thorough planning is needed in building these elevated corridors so that we do not end up in another situation that leads to demolition a few years later. Also, punctuality of buses will be a tough task for the government to achieve for a city like Delhi.
Road designing, construction dust, improper construction of footpaths, six lane roads merging into four lanes and causing bottlenecks are some other issues that the government wants to solve. They have taken 10 roads to redesign on a pilot basis. They are also working on the issuance of Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificates, as well as greening of footpaths by making pavers.
To tackle the issue of road dust and pollution, vacuum cleaning has started on all roads covered by the Public Works Department (PWD) on 1st April 2016. Work has also been accelerated on peripheral expressways that would reduce the number of trucks that enter Delhi but are destined for other places. The construction of these expressways will give a sigh of relief to Delhi that reels under pollution from non-destined trucks that find it cheaper and shorter to travel via Delhi. An Environment Concession Charge (ECC) is already being imposed on these trucks now following the Supreme Court order last year, which however, needs further investigation to check if it is being imposed properly.
The odd-even scheme, which allows alternate number plate cars to use roads on alternate days, could be used as an emergency measure. But as observed by most countries that have adopted this in the past, this scheme ends up failing when used as a permanent solution. The Delhi government has tried to reduce the inconvenience faced by private car users by removing the surge charged by Uber and Ola cabs so that the customers can travel at reasonable rates during the odd-even scheme.
But going by this concern, can we also expect the government to regulate their ‘autowallahs’ who drive around the city bullying passengers and misbehaving? Or does this have anything to do with their vote bank? If these autowallahs would start going by the metre, people would not need private cabs. But the prices charged by them (can we call it a hidden surge?) makes it more feasible to switch to cabs and pay similar rates. Therefore, a lot of steps need to be in place to make the current odd-even scheme more successful and expect people to give away their cars.
With all these pollution control measures listed by the government, there is a ray of hope for the people of Delhi. At the horrendously high levels of air pollution witnessed by our city, there is no room for complacency. However, let us hope that the aforementioned measures (and many more) are rolled out as soon as possible and result in improving the current situation of Delhi so that we can retain our right to clean air.