Desperate times need desperate measures

Following the alarming rise in the pollution levels in and around the capital in the last two days, the Delhi government on Wednesday announced that all schools in the city will remain closed till Sunday. The drastic measure comes after the air quality index (AQI) touched 448 (AQI above 150 is unhealthy) in a scale of 500, breaching the ‘severe’ category.

While there’s no instant fix to the pollution problem, bringing back the odd-even rule for city roads can prove handy, at least to some extent. Odd-even policy is a method of rationing in which access to some resource is restricted to half the population on any given day. Simply put, private vehicles will be allowed on roads on alternate days, depending whether the last digit in the number plate is even or odd. The rule was put into practice twice in the capital last year, from January 1 to January 15 and April 15 to April 30, primarily to check rising pollution levels.

The air quality in Delhi, according to a WHO survey of 1,600 cities, is the worst among the major cities of the world. Though it’s premature to comment on the impact of the odd-even rule on air pollution levels, most studies conducted after the inaugural stint concluded that a marginal impact on air pollutant concentrations could be ascertained. This means that pollutant concentrations could have been marginally higher if the odd-even scheme was not put in place. One must remember that apart from vehicles, there are several other sources that contribute heavily to increasing pollution levels such as agricultural burning of residues, industrial emissions and usage of diesel generator sets, among others. The Central Pollution Control Board, (CPCB) said last year: “It can be stated that while some reduction in air pollution is likely to happen due to odd-even scheme, a single factor or action cannot substantially reduce air pollution levels in Delhi.”

It’s time the government announces a string of emergency measures to bring the situation under control, including a ban on construction work and demolition activities, diesel generators etc. It also must find a permanent solution to the crop burning issue at the earliest. 

Aritra Mukhopadhyay