Odd/Even rule and fighting Delhi’s air pollution

by Ritwik on December 7, 2015

The Delhi Government’s announcement that odd and even numbered private cars will be allowed to ply only on alternate days on Delhi roads from January 2016 has attracted much commentary, more or less evenly divided between those who want to give the proposal a shot and those who believe it is unworkable given Delhi’s creaky public transport system.

I briefly examine some political dimensions of the decision as well as some other policy measures which need to be put in place as part of a concerted plan to fight air pollution in Delhi, which is today far in excess of levels considered dangerous for human populations.

Political Dimensions

The Delhi government move is sharply political and is consistent with party leader Arvind Kejriwal’s ostensible long term plan (in 2024?) to portray himself as the most viable alternative to Narendra Modi and other national leaders.

(1) It makes the Delhi Government look decisive and creative. Everybody agrees that Delhi’s pollution levels, having gone off the charts, need to be controlled but there has been no action on this front in the last several years (the last significant initiative was mandatory conversion of buses to CNG which happened not because of government initiative but due to court order.)

This decisiveness makes for a nice contrast with the dithering (charitably called ‘creative incrementalism’) of the Modi government on every significant issue. Quite simply the Modi government at the centre has so far shown no ability to take and stick to tough decisions, of whatever variety.

Kejriwal, in contrast, is showing the guts to stick his neck out on a decision which can potentially backfire. Voters like political leaders who are seen to be taking risks when necessary.

(2) The move helps Kejriwal’s main constituency of the poor, especially his solid support base among auto and taxi drivers in Delhi.

More importantly, at an emotional level, the poor are sure to be happy that for once the onus of development and ecological protection is not entirely on their shoulders but has been done in a manner which hurts middle class interests most of all.

Rather than the economic benefit, which is not likely to be large, which this move will lend the poor by creating greater demand for cheap privately operated last mile transport facilities, it is this emotional dimension which will help shore up Kerjiwal’s already high stock among the poor

(3) Any failure to implement the policy at the ground level will at least partially be due to the understaffed Delhi Police, which is under the control of the central government and with which Kejriwal already has a perpetual running feud. It will give another handle for Kejriwal to convince his voters that his genuine intentions and creative solutions are being frustrated by the Delhi police at the behest of an uncaring central government.

(4) Given that one of the ‘reforms’ ushered in by the Modi government is abolition of most environmental laws and policies, in a bid to boost manufacturing and mining activity, this move positions Kejriwal and AAP as entities that are concerned about the environmental impact of ‘development’ and who are willing to do something about it.

Other policy measures are required

Whether or not the odd/even car rule succeeds on the ground, a range of other measures are required to fight air pollution in Delhi.

Some suggestions which the government could look into:

(1) Massive upgrade of the bus system. This is already on the government’s agenda. Apart from increasing the size of the DTC bus fleet, the efficiency of its operations needs to be greatly improved. In recent years it is not unusual to wait half an hour for a bus on a specific route, only to be greeted by three buses on that route arriving simultaneously. I am not sure why this level of inefficiency has become standard in DTC but it needs to go.

(2) Private bus operators will probably need to be brought back to augment the government bus system. To address security concerns the government can consider appointing bus marshals (mentioned in AAP’s election manifesto) on private buses as well.

(3) Delhi has an abysmally low number of autos as compared to other metro cities of the country due to a broken permit system. That needs to be fixed asap and lakhs of new autos need to be introduced. While this may temporarily anger AAP’s auto driver constituency, creating lakhs of new earning opportunities in the city can only be a good thing.

(4) A comprehensive action plan needs to put in place to completely phase out diesel – at least from the transportation sector – over a number of years. Penal taxes should be imposed on all diesel vehicles, especially new ones. Heavy incentives should be provided to convert as many vehicles as possible to CNG.

(5) Heavy incentives should be provided to the purchase of electric and hybrid vehicles. It was mentioned somewhere on Twitter that one such incentive could be to waive the odd/even rule for electric and hybrid vehicles.

(6) Diesel gensets, which cause both noxious fumes and noise, need to be totally phased out. Government needs to augment the power generation capacity and incentivise alternative means of private electricity generation/storage, along with introducing heavy taxation on the sale of diesel gensets.

(7) Large parts of the city, especially the trans-Yamuna area, still have abysmally low number of trees. This needs to be redressed urgently.

(8) Finally, to improve air quality in Delhi the government must act in concert with the governments of the various NCR territories like NOIDA, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Manesar, Neemarana etc. As many as possible of the above steps should be encouraged in the NCR too, including the odd/even rule if it shows signs of success in Delhi.

There is a political opportunity in this for Kejriwal. In trying to take other state governments along, he will present himself as a contrast to Modi’s go it alone approach (which has been a spectacular failure thus far). In addition, he can try and work with Akhilesh Yadav’s government in UP for appreciable improvements in NOIDA and Greater NOIDA, and can politically capitalise on any hesitation on the part of the BJP government in Haryana.


Note: 1. edited 8 Dec 2o15 to include electric “and hybrid” vehicles as the earlier formulation seemed to exclude the class of hybrid vehicles.


Brilliant…as usual…

by Purushottam Agrawal on December 7, 2015 at 6:20 pm. #

Agree that this is done to catch eyeballs and get attention away from Modi. After all Modi is doing nothing against pollution.
I don’t agree that there should be lakhs of autos. That sounds a little excessive.

What interests me is how people will circumvent the system. There should be a slew of predictions on that. Game theorists should have something to say on this. Organizations that depend on time tables are also going to have interesting aspects to handle. Essentially the time tables will be decided by who owns which numbered vehicle. So if i have an odd numbered vehicle i will throw my weight and say that there are certain days when i will do some work but not on others (imagine what will happen in colleges in DU or Schools across the city: its gonna be an interesting situation there).

by Nilanjan Bhowmick on December 8, 2015 at 6:54 pm. #

Par excellence…… One my suggestion is if the above policy is implemented in right spirit, there must be provision for allowing the vehicle having non-permitted number to ply, in emergency on humanitarian grounds

by Bhupendra kumar on December 9, 2015 at 11:02 am. #

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