January 8, 2016 3:17:40 pm
The fate of the odd-even vehicle scheme will be decided on January 11 by the Delhi High Court which on Friday reserved its order on various pleas challenging the AAP government’s ambitious pilot project which will continue till then.
A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath reserved the order after the Delhi government informed it that the pollution level of particulate matter across the national capital showed a declining trend due to the implementation of the scheme which began on January 1.
The AAP government’s response came after the bench had on January 6 questioned the impact of the odd-even operation on pollution and asked it to consider restricting it to a week.
Appearing before a packed courtroom of the Delhi High Court Chief Justice, Senior Advocate Harish Salve, representing the government of Delhi, argued that the odd-even number car policy had “resulted in the lowest pollution peak compared to previous high smog episodes.”
Blaming weather conditions for the high pollution levels in the city, Salve told the court that the odd-even system had been introduced as an “emergency measure” as there had been “not a single good air quality day” in December 2015.
Salve also said that the EPCA (Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority) had recommended that the odd-even scheme be allowed to continue as scheduled, and “may need to be extended to three weeks.”
According to a report of the EPCA which was handed over to the court, the winter months of November and December 2015 “show higher number of days in the severe pollution category.”
“December 2015 had 67% of days in severe category as against 65% in December 2014. December 2014, at least had 3% of days in good and satisfactory category but December 2015 has none,” says the EPCA report, adding that the odd-even system had been introduced as an “emergency action to arrest the high emergency peak” as the “overall pollution levels have gone 5 or 6 times higher than the standards.”
Defending the odd-even system, the Delhi government claimed that “intensity of smog episodes” had reduced in the city, with the 24 hourly PM 2.5 concentration levels in the city dropping from 448 microgramme per unit on 22 December to 351 Mcr/unit on January 3. The report submitted by the EPCA, however, does not give tabulated data but has indicated the trends of pollution levels via graphs. The EPCA has stated that due to the odd-even policy, even on days when there was no breeze to blow away the particulate matter, the PM levels dropped.
According to a graphical representation in the report, the PM 2.5 levels in the air in the city on January 4 were over 500 around 2 PM, but declined sharply to under 200 by 5 pm on the same day. The EPCA has claimed that the “sharp fall” in the PM levels were due to the odd-even policy, even though there was very low wind speed.
The EPCA data also shows a sharp decline in particulate and nitrogen oxide emissions from vehicles. The report claims that “per person” load of pollutants in the city had declined by almost 50% in the past week. “this is a significant contribution of Delhiites” as the vehicular pollution has dropped due to the reduction in number of vehicles on the road.
Interestingly, the bench questioned the legitimacy of the EPCA report, noting that it had not been signed by any responsible person, and was “just a printout” with no information about who had collated or analysed the data.
The claims by the Delhi Government were also disputed by the lawyers for the PIL petitioners, who showed data from the Central Pollution Control board website that indicated increased Particulate matter levels in the first week of January.
“The government is giving incorrect data, if vehicles go off the road, obviously vehicular emissions will reduce. but total pollution has increased” argued Advocate Rajiv Khosla, who opposed the odd-even system.
The lawyer informed the court that the daily average pollution levels shown on the CPCB Website showed extremely high levels of particulate matter.
The CPCB data showed that On December 22, PM2.5 levels at Punjabi Bagh was 245.76, while Anand Vihar showed 509.53. Mandir Marg showed PM 2.5 levels of 261.15. On January 3, the PM 2.5 levels at these areas showed 298.52 at punjabi bagh, Anand vihar was at 340.81, while mandir marg was at 273.19.
Explaining the data, Salve argued that the pollution levels in the city were high as there was no wind movement, and moisture levels in the air were high.
According to CPCB data, on January 6 and 7, with fog descending on the city, the PM 2.5 levels in the city was at 471.11 at Punjabi Bagh, 458.57 at Anand Vihar, and 359. 92 at Mandir marg.
The counsel for PIL petitioner Gunjan Khanna also argued that the website of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) had also indicated extremely high levels of pollution. “the DPCC website this morning showed PM 2.5 level at 527 while the PM 10 level was 785. their data does not show these alarming levels,” said the lawyer. According to the PIL petitioners, 46% of the vehicular pollution was caused by trucks, while 33% was by two wheelers. “the Odd even scheme has not done anything,” said the lawyer.
Rebutting Salve’s argument, Khosla also said that if the bad weather conditions were being held responsible, the odd-even policy could be “tried out in May” when the weather conditions were better.
“These figures are correct” conceded Salve, who then argued that the pollution figures “would have been much higher” if the vehicles had been allowed to ply.
“This cannot be done in 15 days… we are not saying that pollution has reduced, we are saying that peaking of pollution shows a declining trend.” Salve also argued that several other measures were being taken to reduce pollution in the city, including increasing number of buses and building elevated motorways to reduce congestion.
“These cannot be done in 15 days. Buses will take several weeks and building roads required 5 years,” said Salve. The lawyer also said that the Supreme court had issued several directions to reduce pollution, such as introducing vehicles with Euro 6 emission norms by 2020.
Further, he added that the objections raised regarding exemption granted to two-wheelers were incorrect as the public transport system was not adequate. “The moment the public transport system gets augmented you can consider banning scooters,” said Salve, who then pointed out issues such as lack of parking space for Buses in the city.
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