Brakes on odd-even in Delhi as NGT rejects exemptions

NEW DELHI: The much anticipated odd-even traffic plan announced for next week was on and off within a few hours on Saturday. The National Green Tribunal (NGT), having first questioned the need for implementing the scheme, hauled Delhi government over the coals before giving its nod with the rider that there won't be any exemptions — women, two-wheeler riders and government officials included — except for emergency, CNG and hybrid vehicles. The Delhi cabinet went into a huddle and reached a consensus that given the load it would put on Delhi's transport system and pose a threat to women's security, it would not be feasible to go ahead. So, pending an appeal to NGT on Monday for the exemptions to be restored, the government put the scheme on hold.
It was helped by the fact that the PM 10 and PM 2.5 levels had fallen to 455 micrograms per cubic metre and 299 micrograms per cubic metre in the morning, under the limit of 500 and 300 that needs to be crossed under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) and stay there for 48 hours for odd-even and a host of "emergency" measures to kick in. By the afternoon, the figures had further gone down to 412 and 248, respectively. But by evening, the levels were up again — 522 and 332 — because of a drop in both minimum and maximum temperatures. However, experts said this was episodic and the situation will improve.
The cabinet meeting, held at chief minister Arvind Kejriwal's residence, was faced with the fact that without exemptions, public transport would have to bear an additional load of at least 30 lakh people. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is already running at maximum capacity -- 3,317 train trips a day - and carries about 27 lakh passengers daily. Though DMRC didn't reveal its maximum carrying capacity, officials said an additional load of 30 lakh commuters was impossible to accommodate.
The city's bus fleet has suffered the ravages of time without any additions and is now severely depleted. Compared to the need for at least 11,000 buses, there are only about 5,500 buses run by Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) and the ones under the cluster scheme of Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS). DTC had arranged 500 extra private buses for the duration of the scheme and DMRC had to arrange 100 mini buses. "The number of buses that would have been available during the odd-even scheme is not totally adequate even for the present demand. Accommodating 30 lakh more passengers would mean procuring at least 3,000 more buses, which is not possible at such a short notice," said a DTC official.
"We respect the honourable NGT's order and are happy that we could convince it that odd-even is a formula that could reduce pollution to an extent," transport minister Kailash Gahlot told reporters. However, the conditions imposed by NGT of not exempting women and two-wheelers is difficult to implement, said Gahlot. "There are 60 lakh two-wheelers in Delhi and only half of that, 30 lakh, will be on the road during odd-even," he explained, adding that public transport in the city didn't have the strength to carry these commuters.
Equally worrisome for the government was the fact that women had been denied exemption. "Women's safety and security is an important issue and the government is very concerned about it. We can't take the risk," said Gahlot. "On Monday we are going back to NGT with the request that it should reconsider its decision not to exempt two-wheelers and women."
Aam Aadmi Party seconded the government's decision. "Odd-even was not to satisfy anybody's ego. Women being vulnerable cannot be exposed to risks. The Delhi government cannot risk the safety of women during odd-even period. Will not implement odd-even without exemptions to women," tweeted party's Delhi unit chief spokesperson, Saurabh Bharadwaj.