How is AAP planning to implement the alternate car day rule?
People are outraged. They will not tolerate this. How will they manage for two whole weeks—actually seven days—without their cars? Oh actually, most of them have one car per member of the family, so they may just be able to do so. But let’s not ruin the outrage. In all honesty, while I’m not outraged, I am cocking my eyebrow at this new anti-pollution measure by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and by extension, Arvind Kejriwal—and I’ll get to why later.
Now if anyone is a walking-coughing example of the ill-effects of Delhi’s pollution, it is Arvind Kejriwal with his perennial cough. For the record, Delhi’s pollution levels are indeed scary. Delhi’s air quality, according to Gufran Beig, chief project scientist of System Of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), is swinging between “very poor” and “poor” and we also have some areas where the PM level is “severe”.
“Very poor” signifies PM 10 and PM 2.5 levels between 351 and 420, and 211 to 252 micro gram per cubic metre, respectively. “Severe” is declared when PM 2.5 and PM 10 cross 253, 421 micro gram per cubic metres, respectively. When I checked Delhi’s pollution rate on IndiaSpend’s #Breathe at 9.32am today, the PM 2.5 level was 453 and the PM 10 level 733. This was at Civil Lines. If you want to petrify yourself, keep clicking on this link every 30 minutes.
There’s no doubt that we need to get a grip on the pollution levels, before we are all gassed to death. Which is why Kejriwal should be complimented for announcing a bunch of measures to curb pollution such as shutting down two power plants in the city, changing the timings of trucks entering the city and ensuring garbage doesn’t get burnt in the open. But all this has been overshadowed by the unkindest cut of them all. We have been informed that from the new year, cars with odd-numbered licence plates will be allowed to ply on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while cars with even-numbered plates will run on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On the Sabbath, we will travel the way the lord God meant us to —in our even and odd numbered cars without discrimination.
A worthy plan, but is it well thought out? I am thinking not. Here’s why.
First of all, this is Delhi, where being ill-informed and rich is a virtue. Most people have multiple cars and will just take out their second or third or fourth car—or buy a new one if required—to get around this rule. The latter is what happened in Mexico City after this rule was implemented. Take for example the tweet by the complete man, Gautam Singhania, “Ridiculous rule in Delhi to have odd even number cars on alternate days. What happens to people who have only one car?” Poor chap doesn’t seem to realize we aren’t being encouraged to use all our cars, and not just focus on our favourite. The whole point of the exercise has dodged him. He’s not alone in his strange concept of what Kejriwal is proposing and is symptomatic of the usual mindset in Delhi. “Arre, so what, I’ll just use the fourth car in the garage. Or just buy a new number plate.”
Second, how are we planning on implementing this rule? Even if it is for just 15 days. How are the police going to scan licence plates? Manually? Good luck with that. Are we going to have road blocks everywhere to check our number plates? So we get traffic and inconvenience. Also, what’s the penalty? We all know the hate-hate relationship which the AAP government and the Delhi Police share, so if the police refuse to implement this rule, are we going to be stopped by AAP volunteers while driving? It’s scary enough for a woman to stop her car for a Delhi cop, I’d strongly advise against stopping for a group of men in civvies.
My reason for concern stems from the fact that I’m a single woman who lives in Delhi, a city known for embracing women against our consent. The reason I have my own car and have hired a driver is for safety and, of course, comfort. My driver has a police verification document, I know where he lives, I know his friends and I have all his relevant contact details. Still, at night, I prefer my friends drop me home, purely for safety reasons.
When I travel from point A to point B, I do not want to be felt up by random men, burgled or raped. All very high possibilities while travelling in Delhi’s public transport. I’ve lived in Delhi for 12 years now, of which five were spent taking public transport. It’s not a pleasurable existence. I was lucky and had a daily deal with a colony auto driver who picked me up and dropped me every day to work. After which I bought myself a car. Unless AAP can guarantee that there will be autos at every metro station, which will not refuse passengers and that cab drivers will not rape us, this is a ridiculous plan. This means I, as a single woman, will have to curtail my movements at evenings when my friends or I don’t have suitable licence plates. Also, there’s no way in hell I’m going to risk becoming a statistic by hailing a cab—let alone jumping into the Metro and then looking for an auto—at midnight after having dinner or watching a film with friends. Neither am I going to stop my car at a naakabandi manned by civilians, if the Delhi Police refuses to implement this plan. You simply can’t ignore the crime rates, especially against women, in this city while introducing such a plan.
This, of course, could be AAP’s way of ensuring that good girls stay home. Very sanskaari indeed. Low pollution and no fallen women roaming around post-sundown. Alok Nath and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) would be proud.
The logical measure would have been to do what Beijing did when they introduced their road-rationing system. This system was in place between 3am and 12pm, when the air quality was poor. Trucks and other heavy vehicles were banned totally. As a result, you aren’t inconveniencing people, and you’re still managing to regulate pollution without endangering the safety of women in your city.
I’m glad the chief justice of India (CJI) is looking forward to car-pooling to work with his neighbourhood judges. I’d advise them all to step out from their ivory towers and travel by public transport with the female members of their families, at peak office hour and after 8pm in Delhi. The total disconnect from ground reality by people making and endorsing laws and rules for ordinary citizens is a little worrying, to say the least.
The bottomline. Kudos to Kejriwal and Co. for coming up with some initiatives to curb pollution in Delhi. But how difficult is it to weigh the pros and cons before announcing a scheme like this? And while I’d love to breathe easily, till I have a guarantee of public transport from point A to point B and a surety that I will not get raped, molested or burgled, there’s no way I’m leaving the safety of my car or my friends’ cars. Or staying put at home.