NEW DELHI—Authorities in Indias capital New Delhi banished from the roads cars with number plates ending in an odd number on Monday in a bid to cut hazardous air pollution shrouding the city.
With toxic smog blanketing the streets, the U.S. Embassy air quality index, which measures the concentration of tiny PM 2.5 particles that can be carried deep into the lungs, exceeded 500 during the day, far above the recommended “safe” limit of 60.
Such pollution reading indicates a serious aggravation of heart and lung disease and premature mortality in people with existing diseases and the elderly. It also means a serious risk of effects on the respiratory systems of the general population.
The city government has declared a public health emergency and imposed an “odd-even” system restricting private vehicles to driving on alternate days, at least until Nov. 15.
On Monday, drivers with even-numbered license plates were the lucky ones. Morning traffic was thin and drivers appeared to be obeying the rule—a Reuters reporter saw no vehicles with odd-numbered license plates on the streets.
“It a huge inconvenience because Im not going to make it on time for my meetings,” said Sagar Bajaj, 29, struggling to find a taxi in central Delhis busy Connaught Place.
Bajaj said he normally drives to work, but his cars license plate ends in an odd number.
Ride-hailing services were exempt from the rule and both Uber and Ola had announced they would not impose surge pricing for the duration of the odd-even scheme.
In Delhi, Vijay Goel, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Narendra Modis ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), decided to defy the “odd-even” system by driving his car which had a number plate ending in an odd number.
Expressing his differences with the city government, which has decided to ration road use to bring down the number of vehicles, Goel said cars contribute only three percent of Delhis pollution.
Neither the BJP, the governing party at the federal level, nor the main opposition Congress party is in power in the capital, giving them little incentive to cooperate with the city government run by the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP).
Goels decision to violate the ban is the latest example of fractious politicking over pollution.
Leaders from the BJP, the Congress party, and the AAP have repeatedly exchanged barbs and traded blame over a sharp deterioration in air quality.
Vehicular exhausts, along with emissions from industry, contribute more than 50 percent of Delhis air pollution on most days through the year, according to official estimates.
The city also ordered schools shut on Monday and all construction work to stop.
A government monitor on Sunday showed air quality had hit the worst level for the year, at 494 on a scale of 500. The level was well above 400 early on Monday.
According to independent online air quality index monitor AirVisual, New Delhi was the most polluted major city in the world on Monday, at twice the level of Lahore in Pakistan, which was a distant second.
Pulling up authorities for their failure to curb air pollution, Indias Supreme Court on Monday asked the state government of Delhi, its neighboring states, and the federal government to work together to help improve air quality.
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