Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal yesterday called on residents of the capital to co-operate with his ambitious plans to clean up the toxic air of the world’s most polluted city.
His plea came as the city’s government gave final details of a trial plan announced this month which will only allow car users to drive on alternate days for the first two weeks of January.
“Pollution is becoming a very serious problem... And it’s a problem that all of us need to solve together,” Kejriwal said at a press conference at his New Delhi residence.
“We have to make this a movement, a people’s movement. We cannot implement this with the fear of punishment,” he added.
Under the scheme any cars with odd-numbered licence plates will only be allowed to drive in the capital on odd-numbered dates and those with even-numbered plates on the others.
Traffic police and 10,000 volunteers will monitor cars at checkpoints across the city and violators will be fined Rs2,000 - extremely steep for the average resident.
The government will also add thousands more buses to bolster creaking public transport in the city, where more than 8.5mn vehicles jostle for space and 1,400 new cars are added daily.
It has ordered schools to close saying it needs to co-opt school buses to help people travel to work.
“My family and I are not exempted from anything,” the activist-turned-politician said, adding that he and his ministers would carpool.
The ban, which runs from 8am to 8pm, has several exemptions - it will not apply on Sundays, and exempts dozens including dignitaries, women driving alone or with young children, and motorcycles.
It has met a mixed response, with many looking forward to the novelty of congestion-free roads and clearer skies while others, especially in Delhi’s vast commuter belt, complain that getting to work will be impossible.
Sceptics have said Delhiites will deploy the famed Indian skill of “jugaad” - creating a cheap alternative solution - by forging number plates or buying second-hand cars.
But Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia urged Delhi residents to swallow the scheme as “a bitter pill right now rather than die from breathing this poison”.
Environmental activists said the moves were cosmetic.
“It’s a piecemeal approach,” said B Sengupta, a pollution campaigner and former government scientist, when he was told of the plan. “It will not drastically improve the air.”
Experts said the city needed a permanent ban on diesel cars, which are seen as polluting, and other measures to reduce spiralling vehicle emissions. Campaigners are calling for steps like a parking cess and an annual tax on all cars.
“Vehicular emission is a major contributor of overall toxic pollution and is a concern due to its direct exposure to the population,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Centre for Science and Environment think-tank.
Government officials say there wasn’t yet enough evidence to be sure about how much vehicular emissions contribute to pollution.
New Delhi has however pledged to bring forward tighter emission norms for vehicles and the transport ministry has said it would ban commercial vehicles that are over 15 years old from the country’s streets next year.
“If we just tackle vehicular pollution, you are not going to get the results you need,” one official said.
The Indian capital is ranked as the most polluted globally in a World Health Organisation survey of more than 1,600 cities.
The city has been shrouded in a toxic blanket of smog in recent weeks as winter sets in, cutting visibility and pushing PM 2.5 levels more than 10 times over the WHO’s recommended safe limit.
These fine particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter are linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease as they settle into the lungs and can pass into the bloodstream.
Courts have stepped in to tackle the mounting crisis, ordering several steps including a moratorium on large diesel cars in Delhi.
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