The alarmingly high level of air pollution in the national capital of Delhi prompted the Delhi government to come out with a scheme called the Odd-Even formula to reduce the air pollution in the city. According to the plan, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the vehicles with registration numbers ending with an odd digit were allowed to run on the streets of Delhi while on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the vehicles with registration numbers ending with an even digit were allowed to ply the streets.
The decision received both criticism and praise from various quarters even though it is not clear whether the move had any significant impact on the air quality of Delhi. Cities like Paris and Beijing along with 13 other cities in the world have also tried out this formula before Delhi.
While the Arvind Kejriwal government was quick to point out that the formula was a huge success, many called it a failure as they maintained that the air pollution level did not dip during the whole duration when the rule was in operation. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of odd even scheme but here we will look at both the advantages and disadvantages of the scheme.
- Pollution control- This was the major reason for this step by the government of Delhi. Vehicular exhaust contributes to air pollution and the huge amount of vehicles plying the streets daily worsens the already deteriorating air quality. Odd-Even scheme limits the amount of vehicles on the road and consequently reduces pollution.
- Less Traffic- Traffic jams have become a regular feature of any big city. The traffic police have not been able to cope with the ever increasing traffic and this has become a major problem in cities. The odd-even traffic rule drastically decreases the number of vehicles on the street and this provides some relief from the traffic jams. In Delhi, the scheme certainly succeeded in reducing traffic congestions which is a defining feature of the city.
- Use of public transport- Using public transport has long been considered an ideal method of reducing pollution and saving money. The odd-even scheme forces the owners of private vehicles to use buses and metros to reach their workplaces or other destinations. This encourages the use of public transport and also saves the money which is spent on fuel.
- Carpooling- Odd-even scheme encourages carpooling. This means that several people can travel in a single car. This was seen in Delhi where persons having odd or even numbered cars took several friends or others in their cars on the designated days. This reduced the cost of transportation.
- Failure in controlling pollution- Many critics have argued that private vehicular traffic hardly contributes to even 5% of the air pollution. Delhi, like other big cities have large factories and other industrial establishments that pump a huge amount of pollutants into the atmosphere. It has been pointed out that curbs on factories, not odd-even scheme, can control air pollution.
- Inconvenience to the people- Odd-Even scheme leads to extreme inconvenience for the people in the absence of a robust public transport system. In China, the odd even scheme is sometimes implemented because the public transport system is very sophisticated but in Delhi, the scheme caused hardships to the people. The people were packed to the rafters in the buses because the huge influx of people caused immense pressure on the public transport system which was not ready for it. The Delhi Metro system does not connect all of Delhi and is still under construction. Overall, people who rely on their own vehicles to avoid the dismal public transport system of Delhi were forced to face hardships. A first class public transport system is a prerequisite before the odd-even scheme can be even be tried.
- People with more than one car- The scheme does not address an important concern associated with the rich people. It is well known that many rich folks own more than one car. In fact, many rich families own more than 3-4 cars. The scheme does not affect them because they can always use their car with an odd registration number on the odd days and the car with even registration number on even days. There have also been instances of number tampering which aggravates the existing problem.
- Pressure on traffic police- Flouting traffic rules is a norm rather than exception in the Indian cities especially Delhi. The traffic police has neither sufficient personnel nor resources to put a curb on the people with blatant disregard for even the normal traffic rules. It is too much to expect that the police would be able to fully implement such a rule with perfection. Moreover, the provision of imposing a fine on the offenders breeds corruption by encouraging bribery.
- Monopoly of cab drivers and auto-rickshaw owners- The monopoly of the auto rickshaw drivers and cab owner’s enable them to charge exorbitant tariffs from the passengers. This was evident in Delhi when the auto-rickshaw owners took undue advantage of the people’s helplessness and charged a lot more than acceptable.
- Not a long term solution- Odd-even scheme cannot be a permanent answer to the problem of air pollution. The number of cars is increasing at a rapid pace and even the odd-even scheme cannot significantly reduce the number on the road. An efficient public transport system, cleaner cars and reducing the other sources of pollution would go a long way in reducing air pollution.