The year is 2018; almost 2019. And, our lungs are desperately seeking fresh air to breathe in. If you are living in Delhi like I am, chances are, your lungs will only be met with disappointment. The city’s Air Quality Index (AQI) was oscillating between “very poor” and “severe” even five days post-Diwali.
Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), a body appointed by the Supreme Court, plans to impose a ban on all private vehicles except those running on CNG in the city. In the latest recommendations, it has demanded “at least” odd-even policy to be implemented.
Of course, the pollution levels in the capital are unacceptable, and we need strict measures to tackle the problem. However, this demands an introspection: Is banning private vehicles a feasible idea. But, more importantly, is it even a good idea? Let’s find out.
What causes air pollution?
The climate in the capital is at its worst during winters. Dense smog stinging the eyes, in the air we breathe is a common sight. It is often claimed that outside factors; namely, stubble burning in the neighboring states cause this pollution in the city.
Yes, stubble burning ends up raising the pollution levels of the city- but, only for a few months in winter. It still doesn’t explain the “over the clock” pollution Delhi lives in, throughout the year. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) recently conducted a study to try and find out the answer to this puzzle.
An average 75% of the city’s pollution can be attributed to industries, residential areas etc; 12% from 2-3 wheelers, 10% from trucks, tractors, LCVs etc. Want to know what the percentage for private cars is, the ones that EPCA is suggesting the removal of? 3%. That’s right.
Delhi’s commuting needs and its public transportation
Several mega-cities around the world have faced the problem of pollution and strived for a solution. Falling back onto public transportation has been adopted by the likes of Beijing and Paris. The EPCA’s plan of banning all private vehicles, except those running on CNG; is an indication that Delhi plans to head down the same route.
The question is, is banning private vehicles even a good idea? The city has a population of about 2 crore. And, that number is excluding the thousands of people who commute in and out of Delhi on a daily basis from neighboring cities.
Delhi’s public transportation services
And, what about our public transportation system? There are some 5400 buses in the city, a metro network of 314 km, 1.5 lakh vehicles as part of the taxi fleet. Even in the present-day scenario of no ban, daily commuters struggle using public transportation.
Many DTC buses have long waiting durations, and when they do finally arrive, there is barely any space for people to stand- let alone, sit. Same is the case with our metros. Talking about the taxi network, it remains unaffordable for a major section of the population- at least for day-to-day commutation. And, nobody is a stranger to the price hikes during rush hour. Imagine the prices when the entire city will fall back on public transportation.
Reliance on private vehicles
The city of Delhi has an approximate number of 1.12 crore vehicles registered. Of these, about 1 crore are private cars and motorcycles. Further narrowing down, out of the 33 lakh private registered vehicles, only 4.5 lakh run on CNG- about 13.6%!
Statistically speaking, this means about 86% of the private vehicles will be put out of use if the EPCA directives are launched. A population that high, mixed with a broken public transportation system and cutting back on the private vehicles. If that’s not a recipe for disaster, what is?
What are the alternatives; if any?
The EPCA has stated that Delhi should “at least” implement an odd-even rule again. Extending the recommendation further, it has taken to banning all the private vehicles that do not run on CNG. That is 86% of the private vehicles taken off of our roads, and that too, when they only contribute to 3% of the pollution.
The cost and benefit analysis of the scenario wouldn’t take a lot of advanced mathematics. There will be severe repercussions: public vehicles filled to the brim with citizens, hiked up cab fares, the entire city coming to a standstill.
Perhaps, we are concentrating on the wrong side of the problem. Instead of banning private vehicles, an alternative approach would be to control/ regulate the emissions coming from our industries, banning trucks and other pollution-causing vehicles, or at least, making them more environment-friendly.
A 2018 report suggests that nearly 35% of the questioned Delhi residents want to shift out of the city. Reason? Its air that is quickly turning poisonous. The instances of people relocating to different parts of the country have become more common now. Many parents, after noticing their young children having problems breathing in the city, have made the tough call of shifting out.
Of course, the relocation remains limited to affluent, rich families, for now. The greater share of the population has no other choice, but to carry on with their lives here. Clearly, we need a solution to the problem- a concrete one at that. But, that is precisely why banning private vehicles is not the right way to go. It will merely add to the burden of a regular citizen.
Read More on Air Pollution:
Air Pollution Barometer of India: Live Blog
Remedies for Air Pollution: 11 Best Protective Ayurvedic Solutions
Will the national capital break the noose of air pollution this year?
Pollution in Delhi: How Can It Be Controlled?