Mr Kejriwal, tell me how will you implement #DelhiOddEven formula

To improve air quality, focus on reducing cars but do stand up for non-polluting citizens also.

 |  3-minute read |   08-12-2015
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Both thumbs up, Mr Kejriwal. Shame that it took a crisis of unbreathable air before the state took a step towards discouraging cars. But anyway, I'm all for this move of cars with even and odd registration numbers plying on alternate days. The question is, how are you going to implement it?

The last government in Delhi, led by Sheila Dikshit had done something good. They initiated and implemented a BRTS (bus rapid transit system) on one short stretch of the city. Of course, car owners were up in arms but people who travel in buses loved the fact that buses were going faster. Cyclists loved it too, for there was a cycling track, which remains a rarity in Indian cities despite the fact that cyclists and pedestrians together make up over a third of the commuting population.

From the beginning, motorcyclists and scooters have invaded the lane reserved for cyclists. Some motorcyclists argued that all they saw was a two-wheeler symbol, so they had a right to be in this lane. But it wasn't just scooters and mobikes, of course. Auto rickshaws invaded the cycle track too, as did smaller cars. They didn't even bother with excuses about misinterpreting the signage. They chose to break the law.

For the first couple of months, there were traffic cops stationed along the cycle track. I recall getting into arguments with auto rickshaw drivers about respecting the cycle lane. But after some half-hearted attempts at policing, the state seemed to give up and just let cars and motorbikes get in cycling lanes. Seven years later, the Delhi government has dismantled the BRT corridor altogether, despite the fact that pedestrians and cyclists account for nearly half of our traffic fatalities.

Last week, I found myself stuck on the BRT with the auto rickshaw driver trying to get onto the cycle track. I told him it was not meant for autos. He protested, "The cars use it." I told him I don't care what others do. So he got off the track and went into a sulk.

Over the next hour, we watched as hundreds of bikers, cars and auto rickshaws got in the cycle lane and on the pavement.

Partly out of frustration and partly to impress upon the auto driver just how angry I was and how serious my view of such rule breakers was, I began filming the offending vehicles on my phone. As it turned out, it wasn't hard to document licence plate numbers. Viewed in high definition, it was easy.

One doesn't even need cops stationed everyday at every nook and corner of the city. Technology makes it possible to enforce stiff fines and issue chalaans even when the traffic police doesn't have enough men and women on the ground. So why haven't they been doing it?

If the cops cannot - or will not - stop a clearly visible car in a cycle lane or a motorbike riding the pavement, how are they going to stop even-odd numbered cars? And if they do succeed in the latter form of law enforcement but not the former, then what kind of message is the state sending out?

If Delhi is serious about improving air quality, it needs to focus not just on reducing cars but also standing up for non-polluting citizens. Apart from stiff fines and chalaans, the state must signal that pedestrians and cyclists get top billing.

So far, there is no evidence of that. The state is not incentivising cycles and cycle rickshaws, nor disincentivising cars through steep parking fees, disallowing parking in public spaces inside residential colonies, and disallowing cars in major market places.

It will be done best, of course, through setting an example: start with government officials getting rid of their cars. It will be done best through putting middle class kids (starting with politicians' kids) on bicycles. It can be done, of course. But it's going to take a lot of doing.

Writer

Annie Zaidi Annie Zaidi @anniezaidi

Annie Zaidi is known for her collection of essays, Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales, which was short-listed for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award in 2010.

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