Delhi's odd-even traffic scheme makes a return

Anti-pollution measure back for 15 days by 'popular demand'

On the first day of the scheme's implementation yesterday, cars with licence plates ending in odd numbers were allowed on Delhi's roads.
On the first day of the scheme's implementation yesterday, cars with licence plates ending in odd numbers were allowed on Delhi's roads.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

NEW DELHI • New Delhi yesterday imposed driving restrictions that will take around a million cars off its roads for the second time this year, in a bid to improve air quality in the world's most polluted city.

The Delhi government first introduced the experiment for two weeks in January as dangerous levels of haze choked the capital city. The authorities said they were bringing it back for another 15 days due to popular demand, reported Agence France-Presse.

"Odd-even is back because the people of Delhi wanted it," the city's Transport Minister, Mr Gopal Rai, said yesterday, referring to the scheme that restricts cars to alternate days according to whether they carry odd or even- numbered licence plates.

"We have full faith that Delhi's people will follow this odd-even rule from today," he said.

A 2014 World Health Organisation survey of more than 1,600 cities ranked Delhi as the most polluted, partly because of the nearly 10 million vehicles on its roads.

As the scheme got going early yesterday, pollution reached a "very unhealthy" 191 on the US Embassy's air quality index, meaning that people with heart or respiratory problems, children and the elderly should stay indoors.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said pollution levels fell after restrictions were imposed in January, but many scientists say the scheme is not enough to tackle the problem.

"It is exactly like taking out 10 buckets of water from the ocean, the magnitude of the pollution problem is such," said Dr Gufran Beig, chief scientist at India's state-run System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research.

Delhi commuters have generally been positive about the trial, but mostly because it frees up traffic on the city's usually clogged roads.

Women travelling alone, or with young children, and politicians, judges and police are all exempt, as are men taking their children to school.

Scores of traffic police and volunteers took to the streets to enforce the scheme, wearing smog masks and holding banners urging drivers to comply with the rule.

Most drivers appeared to stick to the rules yesterday and many took to cycling as an alternative, making Delhi's usually clogged roads flow relatively freely, reported Agence France-Presse.

However, many offices and schools were shut yesterday, a public holiday in India, and the true test of the scheme will be when they reopen on Monday.

Petrol bunk operators in Delhi dismissed rumours that they were going to go on strike to protest the odd-even scheme which would affect their revenues, saying they supported the scheme, reported the Indo-Asian News Service.

One traffic cop who spoke to the Firstpost website said: "We want the scheme to be made permanent." But he added: "We will know what we have to face only while managing traffic during office hours." He added that he had issued fines to four people in the morning for violating the rule.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'Delhi's odd-even traffic scheme makes a return'. Print Edition | Subscribe