Odd-even rule ends in Delhi, effect on air quality unclear
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New Delhi: At the end of the two-week-long road-rationing experiment in the national capital, which restricted vehicles with licence plates ending in odd and even numbers to plying on alternate days to combat air pollution, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday declared the exercise a success even as experts remained sceptical about its effect on air quality.
“The odd-even scheme implemented in Delhi has been a very nice experience. Want to congratulate everybody involved in the scheme. No government has tried this before. Such a strict experiment was implemented effectively,” said Kejriwal.
He thanked the Delhi Police, the traffic police and civil defence volunteers for their support. Urging residents to continue following the scheme voluntarily, Kejriwal said, “From tomorrow, only the fine is getting over, but I urge you all to voluntarily continue the scheme because it’s for our health.”
In what can be construed as a measure of the high level of compliance during the 15-day trial, the transport department and the traffic police issued just 9,140 challans to violators, collecting approximately Rs.1.82 crore in fines. The Delhi government claimed the scheme had brought air pollution down to levels that were considerably lower than those in December.
The World Health Organization had, in a 2014 study, found Delhi to be the most polluted city in the world.
“During these 15 days, there was a lot of discussion on pollution. In December, PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns or less) levels were over 600 µg/m3. During the odd-even scheme, the highest level has been 400 µg/m3,” Delhi transport minister Gopal Rai said.
“When half the cars were running, the data shows that there was a 20-25% reduction in pollution levels,” he added.
PM 2.5 pollutants are considered extremely harmful to health and people are advised to avoid outdoor activity. These fine particles, when breathed in, settle deep in the lungs and are even absorbed into the bloodstream, causing lung and heart diseases. The optimum PM 2.5 level is 60 µg/m3, according to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
The Delhi government will hold a review meeting on Monday to assess the scheme and the changes that need to be effected for a possible second phase.
Experts are sceptical about the impact of the scheme on pollution levels. The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), an independent think tank, on Friday said that there is no conclusive evidence to prove that the odd-even policy improved Delhi’s air quality or reduced traffic congestion.
The think tank, in collaboration with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, independently measured air quality and traffic volumes at five important locations in the city which included Connaught Place, GTB Nagar, IIT Delhi, Mathura Road and Shadipur, over the past three weeks.
An analysis of the data collected from the monitors indicates that the average air pollution levels increased in the first week of January compared with the previous week. However, in the second week of January, air quality was marginally better, but still poorer than the last week of December.
CEEW claimed that measurements from its monitors were almost identical to those of the pollution monitors installed by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
“In the short-term, meteorological variables such as temperature, wind speed and precipitation have a significant impact, and as a result it is hard to provide conclusive evidence on the impact of the odd-even policy on air quality,” said a CEEW statement.
According to the think tank, an average PM2.5 level of 306 µg/m3 was recorded during the first two weeks of January, similar to the average level of 330 µg/m3 recorded during the first fortnight of January 2014.
Besides, a CEEW analysis of traffic movement and congestion finds that despite the implementation of the odd-even policy, the daily average number of vehicles increased by 10% in these five locations during the first two weeks of January as compared with the last week of December.
The think tank attributed this increase primarily to a 17% increase in two-wheelers, a 12% increase in three-wheelers, a 22% rise in taxis and a 138% rise in the number of private buses.
B. Sengupta, former member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board, is optimistic about the effect of the scheme. “Certainly, I feel there will at least be a reduction in pollution load. But this cannot be said for pollution concentration as it is dependent on atmospheric conditions and meteorological conditions such as wind speed,” he said.