Odd-Even Part II: A unique form of participatory policy


Gaurav Dixit

The second phase of the odd-even road rationing scheme is going to be implemented from 15 April to 30 April.

The announcement for the second phase came after overwhelmingly positive results of a public consultation conducted by the Delhi government.

According to the survey, 81% of those consulted have backed the scheme’s reintroduction and 19% opposed. If anything the survey suggests people’s willingness to accept a scheme which requires considerable public participation.

The first phase of odd-even formula received mixed response, with its own share of criticism. However, critics overlooked AAP’s fundamental departure from the past trends of policy making and implementation. Instead of getting stuck in a vast array of bureaucratic rules and ever persistent bureaucratic problems, it allowed the population to take command and become aware of the environmental pollution, its limits and its remedies. Policy echoes the opinion of people, who were concerned about the growing pollution but seemed clueless of solutions.

Past trends

Policy making in India has always been problematic because of the huge population, demographic variety and even ineluctable conflicting interests.

Policy makers have stumbled to either enact or effectively implement appropriate environmental policies to address the looming crisis at hand.

The primary reason behind it is that policies are not only seen as the social welfare measures but also a major instrument of political mobilisation of vote banks. Formulation has been either based along the lines of the ideologies or political gains of the ruling parties. The goals of the policy are often determined by the interest groups or the lobbyists.

Although, theoretically the policy framework seems to be democratic and in favour of the majority of the citizens, practically it has failed to anticipate, acknowledge and take action which will have positive impact on the people.

Environment is one such area where policy makers have failed to build capacity, instruments or institutions to protect our natural world. As the environment degradation increases, a cautiously devised policy becomes imperative not just because of the political negligence of politicians and political parties in the past, but due to its exigencies and momentous impact on our day to day life.

Odd Even Social impact

So where does AAP Delhi government’s Odd-Even policy stand on the ever evolving debate on environment and policy making? The merits and demerits of Odd-Even and its outcome are rigorously debated but rarely with factual considerations or proper analysis.

Even a presumptive case is made based on political and ideological interpretation.

The effect can be discussed both in short-term environmental gains and in terms of social impact. Environmental gains have been discussed in details by a large section of experts, however little is written about its social impact.

Unlike past policies on environment, this time government’s response was slightly on positive side, with the government indicating that the demand for any change should be considered after taking into account various issues including two major factors- community awareness alongside community participation.

This has been done keeping in mind a simple fact- no environment policy can ever succeed without engaging people. A policy should not be a top-down steering but a bottom-up process.

The best thing about Odd-Even is that both the policy formulation and policy implementation are done keeping population at large in mind.

Instead of appeasing a section of society, there is tendency to integrate masses in both approval and execution of the formula. Instead of becoming an instrument of political mobilisation of vote politics, the formula became an instrument of social mobilisation to deal with pollution menace.

The onus of making it successful was equally shared by government and the population. Results of such efforts are that community comes forward to lend their helping hand above hardship it faces during implementation.

Individuals and groups, not bureaucracies or government institutions are the key players of the policy implementation.

Even a peripheral reading of Odd-Even formula intimates that the policy has brought community at the centre of the solution.

There are conflicting reports on the success rate of Odd-Even formula, but one has to agree that it is tough to say if it is the right policy at a given point of time on given scale. So to judge odd even formula simply on its impact on bringing down the pollution level would be injustice to the policy.

It’s a policy in progress and its evaluation needs to incorporate various social changes it aims to brings, slowly but steadily.

Gaurav Kumar is an independent observer and analyst on Peace and conflict in South Asia