In a bid to curb rising pollution and reduce the choking blanket of smog enveloping the city, the Indian capital of New Delhi Friday kicked off a plan to limit the number of vehicles on the streets. Under the restrictions, announced early in December, private vehicles in the city would be subjected to an “even-odd” formula — based on their license plate numbers — and would only be allowed on the roads on alternate days.
“I hope Delhi will show the way to the rest of the country,” New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose government also unveiled plans to shut down one of the oldest and most-polluting power plants in the city, and ban the sale of large diesel vehicles, reportedly said early Friday.
Delhi has done it! Reports so far v encouraging. Delhiites! U give me hope that U are capable of achieving big challenges
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 1, 2016
According to local media reports, thousands of volunteers are assisting local police in spotting violators, who, if caught, will be fined 2,000 rupees ($30). Two-wheelers, however, will be exempt from the restrictions, which will remain in place for two weeks. The government has reportedly arranged for 3,000 more buses to ply the roads during the 15-day period.
“These are emergency actions and we must support and make this work,” Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director of research at advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment, told Bloomberg. “People will be forced out of their comfort zones and would have to think of options like carpooling or taking the public transport or reaching their destination before 8 a.m.”
According to a recent study by the U.K.’s University of Surrey, New Delhi, a landlocked city in northern India with a population of nearly 17 million, suffers from a “toxic blend of geography, growth, poor energy sources and unfavorable weather that boosts its dangerously high levels of air pollution.”
The city also has nearly 9 million registered vehicles, many of which run on highly-polluting diesel.
As a result of these factors, in 2014, New Delhi was named the world's most polluted city by the World Health Organization (WHO). On Friday, for instance, the levels of the hazardous PM2.5 particles, which are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs, stood at a “very unhealthy” level of 201 microgram per cubic meter, 10 times over the WHO’s standard of 20.
Even so, the move to restrict vehicles has been criticized by many who claim that a lack of a robust and safe public transport system and absence of last mile connectivity makes such solutions impractical. And, while the local government has promised to boost the public transport infrastructure in the city and improve last mile connectivity from the metro stations to its sprawling neighborhoods, many remain skeptical.
“This is an opportunity in the city to create and test out the plan for augmented public transport services that can be sustained even after the program is over. This will help Delhi catalyze longer-term solutions to the mobility crisis that is worsening the air pollution impacts,” Roy Chowdhury said, in a statement released last month. “Policy and public support is critical at a time when there is at least one death per hour due to air pollution-related diseases and every third child in the city has impaired lungs.”