New Delhi's Air Quality is So Bad the Indian Capital Has Introduced a Car Rationing Scheme

Officials in the Indian capital, New Delhi, have taken drastic measures to curb the city's dire pollution problem—by implementing a car rationing system, starting from Monday.

An odd-even car rationing scheme is planned to continue through to November 15. During this time private cars with even number plates will only be permitted to drive on even dates and private cars with odd number plates will be restricted to odd dates. The scheme applies from 8am to 8pm every day with the exception of Sundays, when the rule will not be enforced, Live Mint, an Indian financial daily newspaper, reports. Two-wheelers are exempted.

These planned restrictions on vehicle use were announced in September to coincide with the post-Diwali air pollution spike, when the burning of unregulated firecrackers and the toxic chemicals they release exacerbating the city's already dangerous levels of air pollution.

However, how effective it is as a means of reducing air pollution, particularly in the long term, is questionable. The pollution caused by cars is just one fraction of the problem, William Bloss, Professor of Atmospheric Science at England's Birmingham University, told Newsweek. The key focus has to be on crop burning, he explained.

smog in new delhi
People make their way on a street in smoggy conditions in New Delhi on November 4, 2019. To tackle hazardous levels of air pollution, the city's authorities are resorting to a car rationing scheme. RAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty

According to the World Economic Forum, air pollution in the city tends to peak around this time of year when it can reach 300 times the World Health Organization (WHO) standard for healthy air. On top of the annual celebrations, the end of the harvest signals a period of crop burning in neighboring states, releasing yet more hazardous pollutants into the atmosphere.

Cooler air temperatures trapping air pollutants lower in the atmosphere and no monsoon to wash the pollution away also contribute to the city's air pollution, resulting in higher scores on the Air Quality Index (AQI).

The result is that locals schools had to be shut on Friday and flights were canceled on Sunday in response to the hazardous smog engulfing the city over the weekend.

Parts of New Delhi reached 999 on the AQI on Sunday, which is far above the limit considered hazardous for human health (300).

I think we are heading towards Delhi recording the most polluted day in the history of world!! Most of the Delhi areas are showing an AQI of 999 because the meters can't record above that. This is a DISASTER!#DelhiAirEmergency

— Varun Jhaveri (@Varun_Jhaveri) November 3, 2019

In addition to exemptions for scooters and other two-wheeled vehicles, there will be exemptions for women, emergency vehicles and those carrying uniform-wearing school children. Various VIPs, including the President, the Prime Minister and federal judges, will also be allowed to bypass the rule.

As well as promoting the benefits of carpooling, the city's authorities have introduced a further 2,000 buses to the road to help residents affected by the scheme reach their destination. Meanwhile, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is planning additional journeys and a temporary ban on surge pricing has been placed on Ola and Uber rides.

diwali celebrations
A woman silhouetted by firecrackers during Diwali celebrations. ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty

High pollution levels is a countrywide problem, evident from a list of 2018's most polluted cities collated by Greenpeace earlier this year. India took 22 of the top 30 spots—with its Capital city taking the eleventh place.

This is the third time Delhi has implemented odd-even car rationing scheme since 2016 as a means of dealing with air pollution levels that are responsible for approximately 80 deaths in the city every day.

That is despite the lack of scientific evidence that it actually works, Professor DK Arvind, a Professor in the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, UK, told Newsweek—indeed, both times it has been tried before, the air quality worsened, he added.

"You can't have quick fixes to these things," said Arvind. "There are no easy solutions." Instead, he advocates for longer-term solutions, including moving to an electric public transport system.

The article has been updated to include comments from Professor William Bloss and Professor Arvind.