In a radical step to curb air pollution that has assumed "critical" level, Delhi Government today announced that private vehicles bearing odd and even registration numbers will be allowed to ply only on alternate days starting January 1, which drew mixed reactions.
In an emergency meeting chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kerjriwal, a day after the High Court compared Delhi to a "gas chamber", the government also decided a series of steps to cut pollution which included shutting down of a thermal power plant and making it mandatory for vehicles to have Euro VI emission norms from 2017.
The odd/even number scheme, similar to the one in place in Chinese capital Beijing and Singapore, allows vehicles with number plates ending with an odd number to be driven one day while those ending with an even number can be plied the next day, meaning that a motorist will be able ply his vehicle only for 15 days in a month.
Announcing the decision, Chief Secretary K K Sharma said emergency services like ambulances and public transport will not be under the ambit of the restriction.
In its reaction, Congress described the move as "anti-people" while BJP, adopting a cautious approach, said it supported measures to curb pollution but wondered if the step was practical. Environmentalists welcomed the decision.
"We welcome any step to curb pollution but it should be practical," Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, adding that it should not happen that such a measure is rejected outright.
Congress general secretary and spokesperson Shakeel Ahmad said that Arvind Kejriwal government's decision was aimed at cheap publicity and will harass the common man.
However, the move got a near unanimous welcome from green experts, most of whom stressed that the situation called for "drastic measures".
Environmentalist Sunita Narain supported the move, saying pollution in Delhi was at a health emergency level and such steps were needed.
Director General of Centre for Science and Environment Sunita Narain said it will have implementation challenges but was imperative as the city's air pollution has reached the level of "public emergency".
Chief Project Scientist of the Centre's System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) Gufran Beig said it would lead to a reduction in Vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT). It is an aggregate estimate of the distance travelled by vehicles and the principle unit of measurement to assess road traffic volume.
Anumita Roychowdhury of CSE, who has been working on ways and means to mitigate pollution in Delhi, said people should welcome the move as it was time to put an end to "chest beating and complaining" to measures on the ground.
"Similar initiatives have worked in places such as Beijing and Mexico city which have also been grappling with high levels of pollution. Some other cities like London and Stockholm have gone for congestion pricing and Hong Kong for parking restrictions," she said.
Sharma said the government has decided to shut MCD parking lots on the roads that are responsible for slowing down traffic movement.
He said the government has also decided to shut down the Badarpur Thermal power station and will move the National Green Tribunal to close the Dadri power plant which falls in Uttar Pradesh.
The Government will carry out a massive plantation drive along all arterial roads across the city to curb spread of dust and ensure vacuum cleaning of roads by the Public Works Department from April 1.
Sharma said the Transport Department with help of Traffic Police will finalise a proposal to allow movement of trucks in Delhi from 10 or 11 PM instead of existing 9.00 PM as they slow down overall vehicular movement which was pointed out to be a major contributing factor to pollution.
The city government has also decided to make it mandatory for vehicles to have Euro VI standards for vehicular emission from 2017, two years before the Centre's scheduled introduction of the same.
Sharma said public transport will be significantly augmented to take the load of increasing passengers due to the odd-even number restrictions.
All private vehicles even having registration numbers issued by neighbouring states will have to follow the odd-even number formula.
Sharma said public transport bodies such as Delhi Transport Corporation and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation would be asked to increase the frequency of their services to tackle an expected spike in numbers of commuters.
He said vehicles without Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificates would be strictly barred from plying and or entering the city's premises by officials of the Transport Department. "Even vehicles with PUC, but visibly causing pollution would be restricted."
The recently launched Swachh Delhi App would be modified making it possible for people to send images of biomass burning or other sources of pollution to the concerned authorities, he said.
The details to implement the measures would be finalised soon. The penalties for violating the measures have not been decided as yet, he said.