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The Odd or Even Formula Isn’t Going to Help Delhi

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Delhi’s air is now officially toxic. We reacted with barely concealed glee when reports of the “airpocalypse” in China came out a few years ago, even though the air in India, particularly in Delhi, was scarcely any better. It’s official now – air quality monitors are coming up around the country and confirming what many have long suspected – the air in the city is killing you, and not very slowly either.

Doctors (and newspapers) now routinely exhort you to leave Delhi, and if that’s not possible, you end up looking for solutions such as air purifiers, face masks, and air quality alarms.

The Delhi government has rolled out a slate of measures that can help combat air pollution. It has promised Rs. 2 crore to startups that can fight air pollution, and it has also announced measures such as shutting down power plants, reducing the hours during which heavy vehicles can ply through the city, and vacuuming the streets to reduce the amount of suspended particles flying through the city. These are all important measures, and they should be lauded, but they’re getting no focus because of one other measure that the government mentioned, which has generated a lot of controversy.

It announced that private vehicles would be allowed to ply on alternate days, based on the car’s license plate. On certain days, only cars with even number plates will be allowed to be on the roads, and on other days, it will be odd number plates.

delhi_traffic.jpgOf course, the bickering and jokes started immediately; people pointed out that these experiments have not been particularly successful in the past, and further added that vehicluar pollution is not one of the biggest causes of pollution. People have pointed out that cars don’t cause as much pollution as two-wheelers.

Others joked about getting a second license plate to keep switching, or marrying someone whose car ends in a different number. Of course, what could really happen is that the number of cars registered will go up as many people buy the cheapest second car that they can get, and then register it with a number that allows them to stay on the road every day. That’s what happened in Mexico and the result was that pollution did not go down at all.

People who don’t live in Delhi, or don’t have jobs which absolutely require them to have a car, have also started to rather sanctimoniously point out that the right to clean air is more important than the right to drive. The fact that taking away my car can significantly compromise my right to earn a living is not taken into consideration for this argument because it’s their air, but my living.

The condition in Delhi is dire – a lot of people have already started to leave thanks to the inability to breathe these days. The inability to work will certainly speed up the process of making people quit the city.

Gadgets that can clean up the air in our houses are certainly a start, but instead of odd-even formulas, major changes are now urgently needed.

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