Do Bengaluru and Chennai need an Odd-Even Scheme and will it work here?

What we need is a holistic approach and a "basket of parallel interventions", say experts.
Do Bengaluru and Chennai need an Odd-Even Scheme and will it work here?
Do Bengaluru and Chennai need an Odd-Even Scheme and will it work here?
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(Update: Karnataka Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy recently said that the state government may implement the odd-even scheme if it works in the national capital. Read.)

The Delhi government on Friday said that the Odd-Even scheme which has been implemented in the national capital for two weeks now could be extended further on analyzing the pollution data collected till January 15.

The government has also claimed that pollution in the national capital, said to be one of the most polluted cities in the world, has "come down" by around 25 per cent.

While the scheme is being both hailed and criticized by experts, it has also given rise to a discussion on whether or not there is a need to introduce a similar scheme to other cities, like Bengaluru and Chennai, as well.

The News Minute spoke to urban planning experts in Chennai and Bengaluru who believe that we need to adopt a more holistic approach to tackle such problems and that the Odd-Even scheme can just be part of the larger policy.

Urban planning expert Ashwin Mahesh says that though the Odd-Even scheme was introduced as a measure to tackle pollution, people seem to have confused it with a scheme which aims at curbing traffic instead.

"Where is the evidence that vehicular pollution is the major source of pollution? Vehicles may contribute to 10-15% of the pollution in cities but there are also other larger sources of pollution including debris, pollutants from factories, local weather and construction materials which have got nothing to do with transport," he says.

And an Odd-Even scheme does not do anything to tackle pollution from these sources, he adds.

He feels that what cities need to solve such issues is not one scheme, but a "basket of parallel interventions". 

Ashwin explains that at present, people in the national capital view the scheme as a problem for two weeks for which they are making temporary adjustments, which may not work in the longer run. 

Also, to know the results of such a scheme, two weeks is too less time at least three months is needed to judge if it is working and whether it will result in sustainable behavior modification.

He also points out to the fact that a lot of people have drivers. "Will people be willing to give them full salary for half the work?"

Speaking about Bengaluru, Ashwin says that the city needs better pavements and more number of buses for long term results.

"While an Odd-Even Scheme scheme will work to a certain extent, it is not the only thing to do. We need to increase the number of buses from 6,000 to 15,000 and TenderSure should be extended to 500 roads in the city. Only then can we get larger benefits,” he says.

He goes on to say that as compared to Delhi, increasing the number of buses is likely to be easier for Karnataka. "Increasing the number of buses also means an increase in the number of bus depots. In Delhi, while public transportation comes under the state government, depot land is controlled by the Centre. In Karnataka however, both fall under the state," he says.

When he moved to Chennai around two decades ago, MG Devasahayam, an urban administrator in the city, families had one car each on an average. Today, he says, the average has swelled to two and even three (making it easier to flout a scheme like Odd-Even if people have two or more cars with both odd and even number plates).

Devasahayam blames the liberalisation policy which he thinks led to an exponential growth in car production and ownership over the years. 

Public transportation on the other hand in Chennai, like that in many other cities, is extremely poor and has not been able to keep up with the rising population, he says.

According to Devasahayam, "Odd-Even is not the only solution. Also, implementation of the scheme throughout the year is almost impossible, that too with so many exemptions. At present, people know it is just a two-week thing and it is akin to tokenism".

One of the most important problems that Chennai faces, he says, is traffic congestion. "You generally take 2 hours to reach a destination which would otherwise take only half an hour or 45 minutes. Add to it the horrible condition of roads and poor traffic management".

"It is not just a pollution or traffic problem. These issues also affect productivity besides increasing the risk of accidents," he adds.

Devasahayam says that a holistic approach to tackle this issue would include the following measures:

  • Removal of all encroachments on the roads including vehicles parked on the roads: In cities, it is difficult to expand roads, and so there is a need to restore as much road space as is possible.
  • Improve road geometry: The minimum speed should be 40-50km at normal times.
  • Improve quality of roads: Devasahayam says Chennai has a "peculiar disease" of putting banners everywhere. It is "utter nonsense".
  • Democratise road movement: Give people adequate space to walk.
  • Improve public transport

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