Smog-hit New Delhi calls off car restriction plan

Delhi and its surrounding states have been shrouded in a hazardous fog of toxic pollutants for nearly a week.
Delhi and its surrounding states have been shrouded in a hazardous fog of toxic pollutants for nearly a week.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI  - The Delhi government has called off a plan to restrict vehicle use in India’s smog-hit capital city, saying it would be difficult to include women drivers and motorcyclists under the plan.

The odd-even car rationing system had been implemented in the city twice before, but women, motorcyclists and distinguished people or VIPs, had been exempt from its restrictions on both occasions.

On Saturday (Nov 11) however, the National Green Tribunal ordered the state government to implement the system - originally slated for Nov 13 to 17 - but without any exemptions. 

The Delhi government, headed by the Aam Aadmi Party, said it would be difficult to enforce the court order and that public transport could not handle the additional burden.

“At the moment we are calling it off. On Monday we will go back to the National Green Tribunal requesting that two-wheelers and ladies be exempted. It would be very difficult to implement odd and even. There is also also a question of ladies’ security,” said Delhi transport minister Kailash Gahlot. 

Under the system, cars with number plates ending in an even number will be allowed to ply on even number dates, and similarly for cars with number plates ending in an odd number.

The capital city has over 5 million two-wheelers and over 2.5 million cars.

India’s capital is among the world’s most polluted cities. 

Pollution levels in the city have doubled over the last decade due to a combination of vehicular pollution, construction activity and burning of crop stubble by farmers in neighbouring states after the harvest. 

This week pollution levels have reached their highest for the year with levels of PM2.5, fine particulate matter 100 times thinner than a human hair, exceeding 600 micrograms per cubic metre in some areas. The safe limit according to Indian authorities is 60 micrograms pcm. 

According to the US Embassy’s Air Quality Index yesterday, the PM2.5 reading was 316, which is considered hazardous.

The Indian Meteorological Department predicted that pollution levels would start going down Sunday as winds picked up over the city, dispersing the pollutants. 

Mr Mahesh Palawat, director at private weather forecaster Skymet,said pollution would gradually decrease over the next two to three days. 

“Winds are coming in from the Northwest and we expect that in the next two to three days it (pollution) will gradually decrease. Rain is expected over Punjab and Haryana and a few areas in Delhi. This will further reduce pollution,” said Mr Palawat.

Over the last week a series of measures have been taken to lower pollution levels including banning construction, increasing parking fees fourfold and stopping trucks from entering the city.

“The EPCA (Environment Pollution Control Authority) has already issued directions on emergency action. A lot of measures like banning construction have already been taken but the question is how will authorities now take this forward,” said Ms Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment. She added that it remained to be seen what future measures the government had in mind to lower pollution in the long term. 

There were mixed feelings to the odd-even plan being called off

“We have been having a tough time. My daughter has been on a nebuliser for the last four days. She is going to school but otherwise she is under house arrest,” said Ms Juhi Garg, a Delhi resident, who agrees that steps had to be taken to curb pollution. 

“But odd and even for women would have been tough, especially when we have to take the kids to school,” she noted.