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Odd-even scheme challenged in the Supreme Court

Traffic in Delhi. The odd-even scheme aims to reduce the number of cars on the road in Delhi.

The odd-even scheme — designed to curb pollution in Delhi by taking cars off the road — is being challenged in the Supreme Court. 

The initiative permits private vehicles to run only on certain days, depending on whether or not their license plates end in an odd or even numbers. The scheme has been rolled out twice before, both times in 2016: firstly between January 1st and 15th and secondly between April 15th and 30th. This iteration of the scheme commenced November 4th and will run until November 15th. The scheme will not run on November 11th and 12th.

The Delhi government has been credited with taking 1.5 million vehicles off the road on a given day. “I am glad every Delhiite is happily participating in Odd Even and represents the change that Delhi wishes to see,” tweeted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. However, the scheme has been far from the subject of universal adulation. Before the Supreme Court, a challenge has been filed alleging the scheme to be unconstitutional. 

“The odd-even vehicle scheme violates the fundamental rights of residents of Delhi and adjoining states who daily commute in/out of Delhi in their four wheeled vehicles to do their jobs/business to earn their livelihood and is ultra vires Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India,” contends the petition, which was filed by an advocate based in Noida. 

The Supreme Court, which is calling on state governments to ensure access to healthcare for sufferers of rare diseases.
The Supreme Court.

The plea challenges the notion that odd-even has a positive effect on air quality. “Three sources of Delhi air quality data confirmed that the odd-even system did not lower pollution levels: the Union government’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB); the Delhi’s government’s Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC); and Indiaspend’s Breathe network,” the petition states. “On a fair analysis of the report submitted by the DPCC it is clear that odd-even scheme have not led to any substantial improvement in the ambient air quality of NCT [the National Capital Territory], Delhi. This would clearly shows that other pollutant contributing factors need to be paid greater attention.”

One criticism of the scheme has been that it does not prohibit two-wheeled vehicles. The Delhi government has explained the lack of a ban on such vehicles is because “public transport is not adequate at the moment to consider a ban on the two-wheelers.” Indeed, public transport in Delhi is afflicted by multiple problems. There are just 6,000 buses on the roads in Delhi, versus a requirement of 10,000. Meanwhile, numerous issues beset the Delhi Metro, with ridership on the Delhi Metro significantly lower than major metros in other countries. 

Given that 66 percent of vehicles on the roads of the national capital are two-wheeled, the Delhi government contends “it [would] have serious consequences on not just individual citizens but also on…public transport.” In addition, women are exempted, keeping in mind their “security and safety” – a provision legal challenges against odd-even have said constitutes sex discrimination.

“Notification of Odd-Even…is arbitrary, illogical, illegal, done capriciously in an unreasonable manner and unconstitutional,” the Supreme Court petition against it states. It alleges that “odd-even is nothing but a political gimmick for self-promotion and advertisements in the smoke screen of curbing pollution.”

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