India introduces new rules to cut New Delhi pollution

New Delhi citizens get out and push after their bus breaks down in the smog-plagued capital. Picture: AP
New Delhi citizens get out and push after their bus breaks down in the smog-plagued capital. Picture: AP
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The Indian capital yesterday kicked off a sweeping plan to reduce its record-high air pollution by limiting the numbers of cars on the streets for two weeks.

New Delhi is testing a formula by which privately owned cars will be allowed on the roads only on alternate days from 1 to 15 January, depending on whether their licence plates end in an even or an odd number.

Yesterday most cars appeared to be following the rules and traffic was a trickle compared to the usual rush-hour chaos. But with schools and colleges shut, and many offices closed for the New Year’s holiday, far fewer people needed to be on the roads.

The city government announced a number of exemptions to the new rules last week, including top politicians, judges, police and prison officials, women and sick people and two-wheelers like motorbikes and scooters. Still, the plan represents the most dramatic effort the city has undertaken to combat pollution since a court order in 1998 mandated that all public transport run on compressed natural gas (CNG).

Police appeared to be purposefully keeping a low profile yesterday. Except for a handful of major intersections, where police and civil defence volunteers set up checkpoints to watch for wrong-numbered licence plates, there was little official presence on the roads at all. When cars were pulled over, the result was almost always a warning, not the $30 fine that had been announced.

“Today we are just educating drivers,” Assistant Sub Inspector Krishan Singh said. Police officials said they do not have enough staff to properly enforce the rule, particularly in a city where drivers regularly flout the most basic traffic laws.

Arvind Kejriwal, the city’s top elected official, told reporters that he was “overwhelmed” by the response to the new rules.

He said that people “seem to have accepted this anti-pollution drive with an open heart.”

The World Health Organisation last year named New Delhi the world’s most polluted city.

The pollution is at its worst in the winter, with grey skies and a dense cover of smog through the early morning hours.