India’s Car Ban Proved Largely Ineffective, but It Could Still Hold Some Value

Next time you make a funny face while smelling the exhaust fumes of a car passing by on a cold morning, just think about what other people around the world are having to go through each day.
New Delhi pollution 1 photo
Photo: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier on Flickr
The air pollution levels in China’s major cities have become notorious - as well as the brief crackdown last year that allowed the city to see the clear blue sky in time for the anniversary parade - but Beijing & Co are not the sole offenders in this world. The second most populated country in the world is facing similar problems.

The mix of high-density populated areas and poverty is a sure recipe for air so thick you could start a visible vortex if you switched a fan on, and this combination can’t be any more obvious than in the Indian capital city of New Delhi. The landlocked megalopolis is home to over 24 million people, making it the second most populated city in the world - as a reference, only six European countries have a larger population - France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Poland and Italy.

Just like in China before, the air pollution levels got so bad earlier this year that the authorities were forced to take action. But their measures had to strike a balance between being strong enough as to actually make a difference and not affecting the economic development, which could, in turn, have serious repercussions on the quality of life for the city’s residents.

Well, the government doesn’t seem to have come up with the best solution since all it was able to do was to install a ban on cars, virtually halving their numbers on the streets by alternating odd and even license plate numbers each day. After two weeks with the ban in place, the particulate matter in the air dropped by 18 percent. But that’s not extremely relevant, especially when you consider that 1,400 new cars are added to the streets of Delhi daily.

However, Anumita Roychowdhury, director of the city’s Center for Science and Environment, told CNN that there’s another thing to be gained by maintaining the ban: New Delhi has one of the worst public transportation systems and forcing people to leave their cars at home would, in turn, force the government to fix this potentially crucial aspect of the city’s pollution problem. As things are standing right now, the abundance of cheap cars and the low fuel prices are convincing more and more Indians to use their personal cars for commuting.

A decent public transportation system could also help deal with the awful traffic jams the city is facing on a regular basis, but it would do little to curb the other great pollution sources: coal-fired power plants, poorly managed construction sites or burning wood for heat, a popular practice among the lower-income layers of the population.

Just like China, India too is a long way from solving its problems, but even though they are small, the steps towards a cleaner future can already be seen. These situations should serve as an example for those cities that are yet to reach this level, forcing measures aimed to prevent such an outcome.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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