Outcry over exemptions to Delhi car restrictions

Programme to reduce city's pollution will be compromised by list of exceptions: Experts

Women drivers and motorcyclists will be exempted from a plan to restrict private car use in the Indian capital, a move criticised by experts who said no one should be spared in the effort to improve air quality in one of the world's most polluted cities.

From Jan 1 to 15, private cars will be allowed on the roads only on alternate days, except Sundays from 8am to 8pm. The system will operate on the basis of a vehicle's number plates, with odd and even numbers allowed on odd and even days respectively.

Besides female drivers and motorcyclists, top dignitaries, including the prime minister, federal Cabinet ministers and the capital's chief minister, have also been exempted from the rules.

Two-wheelers or auto rickshaws have also been exempted. Violators face a 2,000 rupee (S$43) fine.

"When pollution levels increase, other countries implement this and pollution comes down," Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said last Thursday.

New Delhi sees 1,400 new cars added to its streets every day and air quality in India's capital city has worsened substantially over the last decade, due to a combination of vehicular pollution, construction activity and wood fires in nearby states.
New Delhi sees 1,400 new cars added to its streets every day and air quality in India's capital city has worsened substantially over the last decade, due to a combination of vehicular pollution, construction activity and wood fires in nearby states. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"Let us do it for 15 days and than reassess and do it again. We want good air and environment."

Pollution in the Indian capital has worsened against the backdrop of lacklustre efforts to improve matters.

In the late 90s, public transport was forced to convert to compressed natural gas (CNG) but the early gains have disappeared. The city adds 1,400 new cars every day and air quality has worsened substantially over the last decade due to a combination of vehicular pollution, construction activity and wood fires in nearby states.

In Delhi, levels of PM2.5 or particulate matter - the most hazardous of small airborne particles that enter people's lungs and pose a major health threat - on many days have been four to five times over the permissible limit, touching 295 micrograms per cubic metre.

Experts said the level of pollution in Delhi warranted tough action with no exemptions.

"The big question is: Will (all of these exemptions) make the programme more unenforceable by creating loopholes and leakages?" said Ms Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment.

"We want to support the programme and want it to be successful but a programme designed in this manner is disappointing."

The Centre for Science and Environment also said in a press release that the "effectiveness of the programme would be compromised" because of the many exemptions.

Some experts said the latest plan was not a sustainable solution.

Dr Naresh Kumar, associate professor of environmental health at the University of Miami in Florida in the United States, said: "Addressing air pollution will require an active role for all stakeholders."

He called for strict legislation on clean technology and fuel in vehicles; public education to end the burning of rubbish and wood; and raising public awareness about reducing people's exposure to bad air.

But in a city where cars have become status symbols, there are fears that many households will simply circumvent the new rules by having two cars, each with a number plate allowing them to be on the road every alternate day.

Dr Umesh Chandra Kulshrestha of Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: "The message is that now you should have two cars. If you have 150,000 rupees, you can get a car with a loan.

"This plan is not going to be successful because of this mindset of Delhi.

"Change the mindset and control pollution."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2015, with the headline 'Outcry over exemptions to Delhi car restrictions'. Print Edition | Subscribe