Delhi's 'odd-even' vehicle curbs off to encouraging start

Many car owners observed the odd-even licence plate rule - with only odd-numbered cars allowed on the roads yesterday in the Indian capital - but the full impact is likely to be seen only on Monday when offices reopen after the New Year holiday.
Many car owners observed the odd-even licence plate rule - with only odd-numbered cars allowed on the roads yesterday in the Indian capital - but the full impact is likely to be seen only on Monday when offices reopen after the New Year holiday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

India's capital city saw a better-than-expected response to new odd-even licence plate restrictions on the first day of a drive to cut down pollution and regulate vehicle traffic.

Yesterday, many car owners were seen following  the rules. Still, traffic police and volunteers said the full impact could not really be measured until Monday, a full working day, when many private offices reopen after the New Year holiday. 

The Delhi government is trying to reduce pollution by restricting the use of private vehicles in a city which adds 1,400 new cars every day. The trial  will last until Jan 15.

On all days except Sundays, private cars with odd-number plates would be allowed anywhere in Delhi only on odd-number dates and those with even-number plates on even-number dates.

It was the turn of odd-number plates yesterday. Some 10,000 volunteers, many carrying placards saying "stop pollution", handed out roses to drivers who showed up with even-number plates. Traffic police also let off many with a warning, waiving off the 2,000 rupee (S$43) fine. 

"Most cars I have spotted were odd-numbered. So I am surprised and happy that so many people are following (the rules). I stand on the roads all day, so if pollution gets reduced, it's good for me," said traffic policeman Ram Kish. His team was stationed at a busy roundabout in central Delhi. By late afternoon, the team of police and volunteers had warned 500 violators. "We will know the difference on Monday," Mr Kish said.

Still, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that he was "overwhelmed" by the response and even tweeted singer John Lennon's song, Imagine, to urge support for the scheme. 

"There were very few even-numbered cars on the road," he told reporters yesterday. "By and large, the people of Delhi have adopted the anti-pollution drive with an open heart. I am truly overwhelmed by the response."

The politician, who travels in a vehicle with an odd-numbered licence plate, carpooled with two Cabinet ministers. Other members of his Cabinet used three-wheelers, buses, the metro and motorcycles - which are exempt from the restriction - to get to work. 

The first offender to be fined 2,000 rupees yesterday, according to reports, told the police that he had no choice but to use his car. Delhi Transport Minister Gopal Rai said at a press conference that the number of violators was negligible. 

Delhi has seen pollution levels double in a decade with the spiralling number of vehicles. The massive construction in satellite towns and wood fires in nearby rural areas have added to the problem.

Pollution peaks in the winter as temperatures drop and pollutants get trapped in the lower layers of the atmosphere. 

A study by the University of California, according to a press release from the Centre for Science and Environment, said people's exposure to vehicle exhaust fumes in the capital city is three to four times greater than the world average. 

Many have hailed the odd-even restriction as one good step in cleaning up the city's air. The Delhi High Court even questioned exemptions given to women drivers and motorcyclists, who account for 31 per cent of vehicular traffic. It has asked the Delhi government to respond next week. 

Still, others wonder if Delhi would be able to pull it off for the whole two-week period.

Mr Neeraj Dawra, 35, said he would follow the rules but remained anxious. "The metro is far away from my house and I have not been able to arrange carpooling. So it is a little difficult. I am thinking of buying a motorcycle," said Mr Dawra, a marketing executive with an odd-numbered plate  car. "I will follow the rules."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline 'Delhi's 'odd-even' vehicle curbs off to encouraging start'. Print Edition | Subscribe