Odd-even rule: Smog-choked New Delhi limits vehicles on roads to help clear air

Vendors selling drinks stand beside vehicles near the India Gate war memorial on a smoggy day in New Delhi February 1, 2013. —Reuters

Indian capital New Delhi, in a bid to tackle monstrous smog, has announced restrictions on private vehicle usage for a week.

The city, with a population of 30 million, faces annual winter smog, largely attributed to agricultural stubble burning in neighbouring states. Delhi consistently ranks among the most polluted cities globally, leading to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths yearly.

Government efforts to combat the air quality issue have fallen short. A 2017 US study found that air pollution in India leads to one million premature deaths annually.

Gopal Rai, Delhi’s environment minister, announced the road-rationing scheme, which will run for a week starting the day after Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights known for firecracker celebrations. The scheme will permit cars with odd and even number plates to travel on alternate days during this period.

Rai explained that this decision was made anticipating rising pollution levels post-Diwali. The government plans to reassess the situation after November 20.

Air quality measurements have indicated high levels of dangerous PM2.5 particles, which are small enough to enter the bloodstream. On Monday, PM2.5 levels reached 184 micrograms per cubic meter, 12 times higher than the daily maximum recommended by the World Health Organization.

Despite these conditions, a cricket World Cup match was played in the city in the afternoon.

This road restriction scheme has been previously implemented in Delhi in 2016, 2017, and 2019. While vehicle emissions contribute significantly to the city’s air pollution, a 2018 study by Indian government scientists found that the odd-even rule did not effectively reduce emissions and may have even increased them due to disruptions in regular traffic patterns.

In addition to the vehicle restrictions, the Delhi government has also closed schools until November 11 and imposed a ban on construction activities to combat the worsening pollution crisis.

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