Even as the Delhi High Court today questioned the efficacy of the odd-even scheme running in the capital for more than a week, automotive industry captains were subdued in their reactions. Implemented from 1 January 2016, the Delhi government’s experiment stipulates that odd-even numbered private cars will run on city roads on alternate days with certain exemptions granted to vehicles like two-wheelers, VIP cars, defence and emergency vehicles as well as all women-driven cars for the duration of the scheme that is to run for two weeks.
The trial run of the odd-even scheme that is a bid to rein in the high pollution levels in the capital, puts a question mark over whether it has been really able to achieve its target. While the Delhi High Court has directed the state government to ready a detailed report on its impact on pollution, private car owners living in the NCR are believed to have found ways of skirting the scheme to some extent.
While the odd-even scheme becomes operational from 8am to 8pm, during the day there have been reports of cars driving into Delhi from neighbouring cities very early in the morning and leaving after 8pm after completion of work. That hardly helps curb pollution levels to any great extent.
By all counts, the response of Delhiites to the odd-even trial is beginning to show chinks. Autocar Professional spoke to some industry captains to gauge their response. Ramesh Suri, chairman of Subros Ltd, which makes air-conditioning systems and is a major supplier to the country’s leading carmaker Maruti Suzuki India, while applauding it as a good beginning in terms of cutting traffic congestion by almost 40-50 percent, expressed misgivings about its effectiveness and practicality in the long-term. “It is too early to say as schools are closed till January 15. The aim was to reduce pollution but when after paying penalties, violators can drive their cars on the roads, how is pollution being curbed?” he asks.
Citing it as a disadvantage to the automotive industry when foreign direct investment is being attracted into the country to produce more vehicles, the Make in India slogan is being pitched to push for a higher industrial growth, the odd-even scheme along with the ban on registrations on above 2000cc diesel vehicles by the Supreme Court recently are acting as a deterrent to the sales and growth of the industry.
“A time-frame of at least 3-6 months should be given to car manufacturers to adjust their businesses. Such court injunctions cannot be adhered to overnight without proper infrastructure being in place,” says Suri. For manufacturers who have business units located in neighbouring Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, commuting has become a nightmare. Also for inter-state traffic that passes through Delhi, in the absence of an alternate route means the only option is to close their business in neighbouring states. Meanwhile, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee that is monitoring the pollution levels in the city across four stations on a daily basis has found out that pollution levels have increased from January 1, 2016.
Sumit Sharma, Fellow of Earth Science and Climate Change Division, TERI, told our sister magazine, Autocar Professional that on December 28 (a Monday) the PM 2.5 level was lower at 166-204 micrograms per metre cube in Delhi but on 4 January (also a Monday), the PM 2.5 level had risen to 300-481 micrograms per metre cube. This was mainly due to two factors, namely decline of wind speeds creating stable conditions leading to accumulation of pollutants in the air. At Christmas time, wind speeds were higher and therefore dispersal of pollutants was also larger. Moreover in the last week of December a larger number of people were on leave reducing traffic congestion on the roads while on January 4 they returned to work after a week-long break.
According to him, though the odd-even formula has favourably impacted the congestion on the roads it has not made much visible impact on the particulate matter. Cars contribute just about 5-10 percent to air pollutants while other key sources are trucks that pass through Delhi and run on obsolete BS-III emission norms. About 50 lakh two-wheelers plying on the city roads spew pollutants while a clutch of industries in and around Delhi in Sonepat, Panipat and Faridabad, 1,500 brick kilns in the NCR as well as diesel generator sets powering residential complexes along with fumes arising out of refuse and agricultural residue burning account for the lion’s share of noxious emissions. An industry veteran, BD Singh, MD of the Faridabad-headquartered GKN Driveline feels that the odd-even car scheme is a good initiative by the Delhi government to curb pollution and traffic congestion in the city.
But it is becoming tough for the local population to follow in the absence of a good public transport system, last mile connectivity, cycle paths and proper pedestrian walkways. It is also not practical for those people who drive down to the city in their own cars for a couple of days’ work in the city. “This scheme needs a proper failure-mode-effect-analysis and solutions for key hurdles in implementation. Most people want a pollution-free city but the current system is posing a hurdle to their movement within the city and daily lives thereby making the proposal less viable. In my view, Phase 2 of the scheme should be implemented only after some visible success and public support,” he feels. Others maintain that vehicles are not the largest contributor of pollution in the city with dust particles being a major factor that is yet to be addressed. “Nowhere in the world has this scheme been successful for a long term, be it China or Germany. It will also contribute towards killing the auto industry,” feels Arun Gupta, managing director Technico Industries. A recent National Air Quality Pollution Index has catapulted the cities of Patna, Varanasi, Agra, Raipur, Lucknow at similar PM2.5 levels as Delhi. In comparison four Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Ganzhou and Xian have reported PM2.5 levels below 40 while these aforesaid Indian cities are all above 100 in PM 2.5 levels.
Rajiv Chibber, head of Communications at Public Health Foundation of India, maintains that Delhi has 12 times higher pollution levels than WTO guidelines. He says that the 3,000 extra buses that have been drawn to ferry passengers during the Delhi government’s odd-even formula run are school buses that run on diesel and have been brought through the NCR and are spewing noxious gases. So how are emissions being curtailed by cutting down on car movement? A differing viewpoint comes in the form of how it is impacting the physically disabled since adequate public transport facilities for meeting their special needs are lacking. For instance, adequate number of low-floor buses, ramps for crossing roads, and presence of potholes at metros are irritants. Nipun Malhotra, CEO of Nipman Foundation, who is physically challenged, speaks strongly in favour of a mobility audit of the city for future procurements. While maintaining that it is too early to comment on the ongoing odd-even scheme, he pitches for a detailed study of pollution after completion of a week and a scientific policy for burning scrappage that is a major health hazard.
Amidst all this brouhaha, Hero Electric which manufactures electric two-wheelers, has deployed 100 e-bikes at 15 different strategic locations in the national capital to offer free rides during the odd-even trial run. People can book rides from January 1-15l by partnering with Bikemate, an application available on android and IOS through which one can request for a free ride in Delhi. Each chosen location has available 5-10 Hero E-Bikes with a driver during the rush-hour (8am- 12pm and 4pm-8pm) to help commuters reach last-mile destinations from a public point such as metro stations or a busy bus terminal free of charge.
“The idea is to help office goers and general commuters to experience the joy and comfort of zero-polluting electric bikes and also get to know the advantages of switching over to electric mobility,’’ sums up Sohinder Gill, CEO, Hero Electric.