Remember Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq, the Turkic Sultan of Delhi through 1324 to 1351? He was known to be a man of letters, a gallant warrior and an ambitious ruler. However, History knows him more for his eccentricity rather than his accomplishments. In 1327 he promulgated an order to shift his Capital from Delhi to Daulatabad, in the Deccan region. But what came as a burning proof of his whimsical governance was when he allegedly decreed that the entire populace of his erstwhile capital, i.e., Delhi be shifted to his new capital at Daulatabad. Though he made elaborate arrangements for a so-called smooth transfer of the people along with his seat of power, nonetheless the discomfort, to put it very mildly, caused to his subjects, during this process of migration, was so appalling that the entire incident went down in history as an example of unmatched autocratic and eccentric ruling. No wonder his reign was marred by frequent popular rebellions and revolts.
Analogous to Tughlaq’s temperamental promulgation, Mr. Arvind Kejriwal has once again slapped the odd-even scheme on the unsuspecting populace of Delhi with the noble intent of freeing the Capital’s air of pollutants, i.e odd-number plated cars to ply on Delhi roads on odd days whereas even number plated to run on even days. The scheme is also applicable to vehicles which enter the city from other parts of National Capital Region (NCR). A very commendable project indeed! However, how much the scheme is going to improve the health and hygiene of the people is highly debatable as the inescapable mounds of dirt and discards still dot the cityscape in abundance. The roads are still ill-maintained and repaired in patches which render travel extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient as vehicles keep on jumping from one bumpy patch to another. Least said the better when it comes to sanitation because notwithstanding his over-blown trumpet, Mr. Kejri has not been able to gain even an ounce of success in getting work out of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. So the stench keeps rising from the clogged drains and the silts scooped out of a lucky manhole are kept piled next to it till the next burst of rain clouds for the smelly, mosquito infested dump to be swept into the hole again. Coming to vehicular congestion and the consequent pollution, there have been days, even under the much touted odd and even scheme, when crossing a single traffic signal has been an onerous affair!
But it’s difficult to make a man, who is so taken up with his own ideas, understand the travails of common man bogged down by drastic reformatory dictates of the Ruling Party. Reforms and resultant curbs are best suited when put in effect in small measures accompanied by alternate arrangements. In Mr. Kejri’s scheme of things, it is either a forceful imposition or nothing at all. Delhi suffers vehicular congestion because of absence of alternate means of transport. The Metros are as it is over-crowded throughout their plying schedule. So are the public buses. The autos are no less expensive either. Cabs charge exorbitantly when demand is on the rise. Other Metros like Kolkata and Mumbai have an efficient local rail service. Delhi has none. Again, the distances traveled in other Metros are not comparable to that in and around the Capital where day-to-day commuting entails inter-state movement.
Lately, Mr. K has come down heavily on diesel driven vehicles too. I am told that the transport manufacturing companies, even the giant operators, are finding it extremely difficult to produce engines with diesel-CNG compatibility. The cost of converting the diesel-run engines into diesel-CNG compatible engines is huge. The small-time transporters, who are aplenty, cannot afford such conversion. If, as Mr. K envisages, diesel driven vehicles are banned from plying in the city what will happen to these small-time operators and their families? What about the heavy motor vehicles like trucks and tempos which transport goods to and fro Delhi? How manageable the cost of living be if transportation of day to day requirements is stalled on account of the embargo on diesel driven transports? Will not the Government suffer if the revenue earned from the sale of diesel is curtailed one fine morning in the Capital? And most importantly what are the alternate solutions to all these practical problems?
Change is inevitable. It is reactionary not to allow change to happen. As I write this piece, constant and irretrievable changes are taking place in the surrounds. But Nature’s changes are so imperceptible that these do not jolt the people by their suddenness, except force majeure, which by their very nature, is unpredictable and befall unannounced. Other than the calamities, the import of these regular yet invisible changes cumulate on day to day basis becoming palpable over a period of time without disturbing the daily routine in an unexpected and unanticipated manner.
Likewise, the fortnightly experiment, that Mr. K is indulging in, would have been more effective and welcome had it been injected in the day to day stream of city life in gradual measures, backed by stout infrastructural supports, without largely disrupting the daily lives of the people all of a sudden.
Again, rules are acceptable and court willing compliance if their underlying logic is comprehensible. Vehicles irrespective of odd-even number is permissible on all days if self-driven by ladies but the same relaxation for a chauffeur-driven lady commuting on a regular basis is not allowed. Security reasons were cited for relaxing the rules for lady drivers. Then how come the same reason is not applicable for ladies who are accompanied by their drivers? What about those who are not medically fit to drive their vehicles or travel by public conveyance, irrespective of gender? What about commuting options for senior citizens, in and out of service, more so, considering the onset of a scorching summer? Why are two-wheelers allowed to ply on all days under the scheme when they are the cause of 33% vehicular pollution? Does CNG not add to environmental pollution? What about the hazardous fumes emanating from the CNG kit installed in the vehicle? What about lane jumping? What about traffic signal flouting? What about haphazard parking on either side of the thoroughfares, lanes, by-lanes narrowing the breath of the road leading to invariable congestion? What about so many other eye and mind sores which await rectification and keep on escalating public frustration?
As a law abiding citizen of this country, I am bound to adhere to the Government’s strictures, whether acceptable/convenient or not (irrespective of the Rs. 2000/- challan followed by an immediate-off-the-road-firman for flouters). I have an even numbered vehicle. Being a single earner maintaining two cars is simply no-no for me. Having completed more than half a century on this planet earth, I consider myself in the category of senior citizen in spite of the misnomer that a senior citizen is one who has superannuated from service. Endowed with arthritic knees and enlarged ankle bones, driving is not a very appealing prospect for me. Traveling by public conveyances is equally unthinkable as I am not supposed to be standing on my two feet for more than ten minutes at a stretch. Since, I commute long distances every day to attend to work I am compelled to depend upon my driver. Surprisingly, Kejriwalji’s odd-even scheme does not take into consideration such cases. Therefore, on odd days I have to either depend upon autowallas, who make it a point to make the best of commuters’ inconvenience by demanding higher charges outside the meter, or cabs, both adding excessively to monthly expenses of a service person with limited income.
Had only spending more resolved problems, it would have been still endurable to some extent. The other (odd) day when I took an auto from Doctor’s clinic to my residence, the distance being in NCR’s parlance at a stone’s throw, the autowallah after reaching my residence told me quite irritatingly that I could have walked up from the main gate of the block instead of bringing him inside since now he had to take a longer round to take the exit gate of the colony which was not even a three-minute route from where he had stopped!! While Mr. CM keeps raving about how he has himself gone for car pool with his ministers and party people residing close by, for us hapless ones, that option is also not available.
And talking of inconvenience, I remember in the first phase of this odd-even scheme, my sister and brother-in-law, travelling an odd-numbered vehicle on an even dated day, had to wait interminable hours at the border till the stipulated hour the scheme was in force. For readers, who are unaware, in its second phase, the scheme is in force from 08.00 am to 08.00 pm for the latter part of the month for fifteen days as part of a pilot project i.e. 15th of April onward.
This is an inspired scheme for our CM who had come across this idea on one of his trips abroad(?) But what did not strike him while enforcing the same in his very own land is that blindly borrowing schemes and ideas do not always pay, especially, in a country with an overflowing population, minimal infrastructural backing and an uninspired junta who is readily inclined to find out ways and means to break the law or bend it as much as their preferences and selfish benefits require.
Yes, this is a jugaadu nation. Going by the first phase of odd-even scheme in the month of January this year, the residents of the Capital have prepared themselves for the worst. Now one out of every three cars on road flaunt the much-in-demand CNG sticker (how these are being procured is a different story altogether). So, CM’s dream of having lesser number of vehicles on-road does not also seem to be materializing.
The Kejri Government went for an online opinion poll on the scheme. The outcome of the plebiscite has not yet been disclosed. Instead what we are subjected to on a daily-ten-minutes-interval-basis is a monotonous self-broadcast on FM (which has almost become the propaganda machine of the Party in Power) about what wonderful difference the odd-even scheme is making to the city roads and to the city dwellers as a whole.
Written for entries under TOI’s #OddEvenDobara