CSIR's proposal to combat Delhi's pollution

The research lab claims their idea will be more effective that Delhi's proposed odd-even licence-plate policing.

Updated - November 16, 2021 10:38 pm IST

Published - December 24, 2015 10:53 am IST - NEW DELHI

NewDelhi: 02/12/2015:A view of the massive treffic jam at Ring Road in New Delhi on Wednesday morning . Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

NewDelhi: 02/12/2015:A view of the massive treffic jam at Ring Road in New Delhi on Wednesday morning . Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

A mid-week work-from-home, rather than licence-plate policing, may be the solution to Delhi’s pollution crisis, suggests the policy arm of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, India’s largest chain of publicly-funded research labs.

The Delhi government's plan to impose restrictions on private car usage, to check air pollution, may be harder to implement and less effective than implementing a mid-week reprieve wherein, instead of commuting to work and school, employees and students could work and study from home for a day, according to the CSIR-National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS).

Their rationale is that because, vehicular pollution in Delhi tends to accumulate through the week, a mid-week halt — such as on a Wednesday — would halt the build up and somewhat ameliorate the air. Additionally, the restrictions would apply not only to cars but on school buses too and contribute — the institute says — to decreased stress, be easier to implement and lead to additional energy savings in schools and offices.

NISTADS said that the proposal resulted from in-house research but was led by a broader directive from the Ministry of Science and Technology to apply scientific know-how to broader socio-economic problems in India. “This idea that we’ve proposed is the first of related ideas that we’re working on,” said Dr. Sujit Bhattacharya, a senior professor at the institute.

The proposal comes, even as the Delhi government, from the New Year, gears to roughly halve the cars on Delhi roads by allowing odd-numbered licence plates to ply on odd-numbered days and even-numbered plates on others.

“We propose a 2+1+2 working week in which the third day (Wednesday) will be a day of Virtual Attendance at Work and School (VAWS), with two regular working days before and after. A mechanism of internal monitoring will be in place. This would allow spike of the air pollution to subside during mid week. In addition to reducing air pollution, VAWS will have several other attending benefits like energy saving at work/school, reduction of travel related stress, higher efficiency and improved quality life. VAWS can easily be implemented and monitored through an organised system,” said a NISTADS statement explaining the plan.

To be sure, NISTADS argues for the possible ineffectiveness of the Delhi government’s odd-even restrictions, on the basis of similar policies in China, Mexico and Bogota.

Thus it is not based on a controlled experiment or study but works on the premise that merely restricting cars, which contributes only around 10% of the particulate matter pollution, will not address pollution. Moreover, NISTADS adds, Delhi’s inadequate public transport system, the possibility of people buying multiple cars and increased burden on Delhi’s traffic police could further dampen the odd-even proposal, which according to the Delhi government will be tested as a trial for a fortnight and then assessed for its effectiveness.

“The VAWS scheme would effectively reduce the number of school days by 50 days. The proposed mitigation envisages a non-disruptive solution that enhances quality of life and also efficiency. Sustainability and follow-up based on the feasibility assessment of the initial phase of the project, the process can be refined through precision measurements and surveys to introduce zonal variations,” according to the NISTADS proposal.

Delhi’s air pollution has earned global infamy with several reports condemning it as among world’s most toxic capitals and pollution levels far exceeding even Beijing.

Vehicles apart, a variety of factors including Delhi’s geography, construction trends, the location of industrial plants, the reliance of a significant portion of the population on biomass for heating, inefficient cooking methods, and wafts carrying agricultural waste from neighbouring Punjab and Haryana.

Several agencies, who independently monitor Delhi’s air quality have said that the levels of particulate matter—fine particles of dust, as well as the residues of burning fuel for vehicles and industry—has markedly increased over the years leading to a spike in respiratory illnesses. The public concern and consternation influenced the Delhi government to unveil its much-discussed odd-even plan that is set to roll out from Jan 1, 2016.

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