Odd-Even Scheme: Pollution Control Lessons for Delhi from London

With it’s recently concluded second phase of the Odd Even car rationing scheme, Delhi has been in the news for quite long time due to its severe air pollution. The air quality of Delhi is highly deteriorated with high levels of Nitrogen Oxides, Particulate Matter (PM), Hydrocarbon Compounds like Benzene, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) and so on, which have earned it the tag of being world’s most polluted air according to the WHO. In order to address this problem, the Government of Delhi (GoD) adopted the above mentioned Odd – Even policy which to deal with vehicular pollution. Let us draw a comparison with London city to see if some lessons can be learnt for Delhi.

London is a city which saw one of the earliest industrial revolutions. The urbanisation here has happened much before it happened in many countries of the world. The city has been fighting with severe air pollution. Smogs were frequent. One such incident was when dense fogs covered the city of London in December 1952. The major cause for this fog was found to be burning of coal to beat the cold. Since, good quality coal was exported out of UK, people were left with low grade coal which emitted more harmful gases into the atmosphere. The incident had resulted in transportation delays and an increased number of crimes was also recorded.

The efforts to curb air pollution were made by the London administration in quick succession and “Smokeless Zones” were declared in London in 1954. In 1971, the government eyed on sulphurous fuels and banned burning of it in the city and vicinity areas. The City Corporation of London has now come out with Air Quality Strategy 2015 – 2020 to fight a tough battle with air quality. The strategy includes efficient air quality monitoring, political influence and commitment, reduction in vehicular emission by adopting zero emission capable taxis and buses across London, engaging with external organizations like business and educational institutions, reducing emission from transport through promotion of cycling, changing road schemes and curbing unnecessary vehicle engine idling, reducing emission from new developmental activities which mainly include construction and deconstruction activities, discouraging biomass and biofuel, recognition of best practices towards cleaner air, recognizing the linkage between air quality and health as poor air quality results in different types of diseases like asthma, bronchitis, allergic rhinitis, running nose, watery eyes and so on, and awareness generation through “City Air” mobile application.

When Delhi has a similar condition like London including the sources of air pollution, it becomes important for us to learn from the experiments and experiences of London. From the Air Quality Strategy of London, it becomes clear that to curb air pollution, only targeting the vehicular pollution is not sufficient. Moreover, the pollution in Delhi is not just created by the Delhi dwellers. Like Poland suffers from the high industrial activities of Germany and France, Delhi suffers from the activities in the neighbouring states. Thus, the Delhi government will have to go with a multipronged strategy along with the help of neighbouring States. The much promoted cooperative federalism by the present central government must be well utilized in addressing such issues.

The directions given by the Ministry of Environment and Forests of Government of India on 31st December 2015 to the State Governments of Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to take actions to control air pollution become very relevant here. Unlike Delhi’s “Odd – Even Policy”, these directions not only target the vehicular emission, but also the controlling of road dust/re-suspension of dust and other fugitive emissions, control of air pollution from bio-mass burning, control of industrial air pollution, control of air pollution from construction and demolition activities, and other aspects like awareness generation, creating helpline numbers, grievance redressal, maximizing coverage of LPG / PNG for domestic purposes and restaurants, satellite based monitoring for tracking and enforcing agriculture waste burning and so on.

Learning from London’s experiences, the following are a few suggestions for the pollution control strategy of London:

  • Delhi needs to go for Air Quality Management Area (AQMA).
  • Promote rooftop gardening and take intensive programs for greening the city, monitoring must be given more emphasis which is very much lacking or irregular in Delhi.
  • Delhi also has to recognize other causal factors for air pollution and implement some other measures too. For example, a study conducted by IIT Kanpur has found that Tandoors (Tandoori roti) are contributing to air pollution in Delhi. Tandoors are prepared by using coal as fuel in more than 9000 restaurants and dhabas in Delhi which amounts for nearly 10% of the particulate matter (PM). As the report has recommended, there is a need for similar shift to electric or gas based appliances.
  • Solar power needs to be promoted on rooftops of the buildings. They will help in reducing the energy consumption from conventional sources. The air pollution which is caused due to coal based power plants in the vicinity of Delhi like Badarpur can be reduced when the demand of electricity from such sources are less.
  • Along with phasing out vehicles older than 15 years, the government has to go for compulsory scrapping of the unused old vehicles which have occupied huge amount of space in the city, especially in the residential areas which have caused parking problem. Due to lack of parking space, many vehicle owners have to keep shifting their vehicles from one place to another which will unnecessarily add the toxic gases to the atmosphere. We need to understand that the real threat for air pollution is not the new vehicles which are coming with new technologies but the old vehicles.
  • Biofuel may be promoted in Delhi as per the National Biofuel Policy of India. Even though London’s policy discourages use of biofuel, may be because of some evidence which says that they contribute in increasing Nitrogen Oxides, Delhi can still go for it as a preliminary measure. According to S. Kent Hoekman, Research Professor in the Division of Atmospheric Sciences at the Desert Research Institute, there is a widespread discrepancy in the data regarding the increase in Nitrogen Oxides due to biofuels. Therefore, along with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), it could be feasible to promote biofuels.

The experiences in other cities like Beijing, Mexico city have shown that there was no significant impact on air pollution due to “Odd – Even policy”. However, Delhi can still continue the implementation of the policy so that traffic congestion on Delhi roads would be reduced significantly and ‘use of public transport culture’ is adopted by people. In the longer run, if the Government of Delhi ensures a good public transportation system which would accommodate the needs of people, probably the people of Delhi would prefer public transportation more than the private vehicles which would definitely contribute in the reduction in air pollution. It would also be important to ensure that the number of vehicles in each house does not increase to beat the Odd-Even Policy as it happened in Mexico where people started to buy more vehicles so that they can escape from the Odd – Even and continued to travel in private vehicles.

The problem of air pollution should be addressed with holistic and convergent efforts so that the people of Delhi would be able to breathe cleaner air.

Akshara Damle
Spring 2016 Intern, IPAN

This content has been helpful to you?

Thanks for contributing!

Yes No
  • Chandrashekhara Damle

    Suggestions in the article are worthy of consideration and implementation. Economics of implementation should also be evaluated.

  • Renaissance Today

    Commendable writing style.