Odd-even scheme: Before Delhi starts third leg, let’s see how the last two went

While the scheme made impact beyond private vehicular emissions, it saw some counter-intuitive trends too

By Rohan Gupta
Published: Friday 13 September 2019
The scheme needs to be introduced in coordination with the Uttar Pradesh and Haryana governments to combat traffic confusion, said experts. Photo: Getty Images

The Delhi government will reinstate its odd-even scheme during November 4-15, 2019, announced Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on September 13.  

The scheme, which has been the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led government’s pet project to fight air pollution in the smoke-infested Delhi, was implemented twice in 2016. For two weeks, each time. But it remained controversial in its impacts.

So let’s take a look at how impactful this scheme has been for Delhi:

First leg: January 1-15, 2016

In its introductory phase, the odd-even scheme proved to be a successful measure in curbing air pollution in Delhi. During this time, Delhi experienced the lowest pollution peaks compared to previous high smog episodes in the winter, according to an analysis by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based non-profit.

This reduction in pollution was visible despite hostile weather conditions — no wind, temperature dip and western disturbance. While, before the odd even scheme in January, particulate matter (PM) 2.5 concentration increased whenever wind speed dropped, it fell after the scheme was actuated, added the analysis.

Particulate matter and nitrogen oxide load from cars reduced by as much as 40 per cent while the scheme was operational, according to a status report by the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA).

The impacts were not just limited private vehicular emissions. There were ancillary benefits as well. During those 15 days, lower road congestion led to a more efficient functioning of public transport.

There is a direct correlation between congestion and pollution as congestion lowers fuel efficiency. Road rationing led to higher bus speeds: Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus fleet utilisation improved from 84 per cent on normal days to 95 per cent during odd-even scheme, found the CSE analysis.

The sale of petrol and diesel also dropped by 4.7 per cent and 7.8 per cent respectively between December 2015 and January 2016. This is another indicator of reduced pollution levels.

There was reduction in the rate of improvement of air quality after the scheme ended, CSE readings noted.

Second leg: April 15-30, 2016

The second phase saw some counter-intuitive trends. Air pollution levels tanked during the first nine days but then saw an unprecedented rise from April 22, according to air quality data released by the CSE.

The PM2.5 levels increased by 23 per cent and PM10 by 22 per cent compared to the previous fortnight, reported IndiaSpend. Later, automobile companies used this analysis in a Supreme Court hearing to argue against stringent actions imposed on the automobile industry, reasoning that vehicles are an insignificant contributor to pollution.

Using National Aeronautics and Space Administration satellite imagery, CSE found a sudden spike in crop fires in Punjab and Haryana from April 21.

Even though the wind speed was conducive for low pollution levels, a sudden spurt in these fires along with garbage burning at Bhalswa garbage dump led to abnormally high levels of particulate matter.

Flaws of the scheme

Addressing infrastructural and policy issues are instrumental in making the odd-even scheme a success. Public transport in Delhi assumes a major role when it’s operational. According to a directive issued by the Supreme Court, Delhi needs 11,000 buses and it has around 5,500.

“There are multiple issues that need addressing. The operating time of the scheme needs to be 24 hours instead the current 8-to-8 system, which incentivises commuters to reschedule their travels defeating the purpose of the idea itself,” said Vivek Chattopadhyay, programme manager of the air pollution unit at CSE.

“Prices of public transport need to be made negligible, it should provide last-mile connectivity and availability also needs to improve,” added Chattopadhyay.

The scheme needs to be introduced in coordination with the Uttar Pradesh and Haryana governments to combat traffic confusion, he said.

Including two-wheelers in the scheme will also be a welcoming step, but it will increase the pressure on the already over-burdened public transport, said experts.

They also believed that surge pricing for people opting to share cabs during the scheme period needs to combat through appropriate restrictions.

The odd-even scheme should be treated as an emergency measure and should be implemented for not more than three to four days, said Chattopadhyay.

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