Author: Taanya Trivedi, International Law LLM Student & Buchanan Policy Researcher 2019-20
In an effort to combat hazardous levels of pollution in the city, which have been described as equivalent to a ‘gas chamber’, the Delhi govt. launched the odd-even policy for the third time after two trial runs in the year 2016, with a possibility of an extension beyond the stipulated time frame, depending upon the results. This policy was in effect from 4th November 2019, to 15th November 2019, applicable from 8 AM to 8 PM on all days during the period specified, except on Sunday .
Frequently referred to as road space rationing or traffic rationing, in which vehicles with registration numbers ending with even digits run on even dates, and those with odd digits ply on odd dates; the penalty for a violation being close to £40 for this year. The grey smog engulfing the city in the first week of November, spurred concerted action from the majority of the public, with prominent journalist such as Barkha Dutt supporting a longer time frame for the policy, as an instrument of peoples’ participation in improving the air quality. As a gesture of solidarity with the government’s policy, the cab aggregators resolved not use surcharging policies, in the face of increasing demand for cabs.
While a large number of Delhiites conformed to this policy- which can be seen in the falling number of challans issued by the Traffic police, this year (the quantum of the fine- which was double from 2016 due to the recent amendment of the Motor Vehicles Act, may also have led to this); the opposition challenged the efficacy of the policy, in the absence of concrete proof of it reducing pollution levels in the city and equated it with harassment of the public; some even went on to challenge the policy as arbitrary and violative of the right to practise one’s profession, which is a fundamental right in the Constitution of India. Such allegations can be easily dispelled by referring to the application of similar road rationing policies in combination with other instruments to fight air pollution in Beijing, Paris, Mexico, Brazil and Italy; moreover, it is impracticable to expect substantial returns in such a short duration of time, with only vehicular pollution being targeted.
When questioned about the effectiveness of this policy, the Prime Minister of Delhi, Mr Arvind Kejriwal, said that the policy intends to tackle local sources of pollution such as dust and vehicular emissions. He mentioned that this restriction on private vehicles was supplemented by a fleet of 700 private buses hired by the Delhi government in an attempt to boost public transport services.
The real causes of this blanket of smog enveloping the capital of India, includes the smoke emitted from crackers during Diwali celebrations in the last week of October compounded by stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana as farmers clear the field to plant new crops for the winter season and construction activities in and around the city which releases dust in the air. Despite good intentions, the odd-even rule may not ensure access to clean air in the long term, owing to its temporary nature. What is required is a holistic change in farming practices, along with an absolute prohibition on stubble burning which can only be achieved through a joint effort of all the state governments.
However, the present political set up of India does not provide a conducive atmosphere for the Delhi government. to lobby any such collaborative efforts with the help of the neighbouring states. This inevitably elucidates a critical question for policy-makers: should the right to a clean environment and air quality be influenced by the changing political temperaments?