New Delhi: Hundreds of thousands of even-numbered vehicles went off the roads in the Indian capital on Friday as Delhiites embraced a novel odd-even vehicle restriction policy aimed at curbing alarming levels of pollution.
Eight hours after the 8 a.m.-8 p.m. scheme got underway, authorities had issued challans to 117 motorists - a small number compared to the lakhs of vehicles which were on the roads.
After seeing the widespread compliance, Delhi Transport Minister Gopal Rai said: "It is more successful than what we had anticipated."
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said he was overwhelmed by the response of the people towards the January 1-15 trial run that seeks to allow on roads only odd-numbered four-wheeled vehicles on odd dates and even-numbered ones on even dates. There are no restrictions on Sundays.
"I am truly overwhelmed. There are very few even numbered cars on the roads," he told the media.
Kejriwal said this was not a permanent scheme. "It is not possible to implement this permanently," he told CNN-IBN. Such curbs can be imposed whenever pollution levels go up alarmingly, he added.
The Delhi Pollution Control Committee said the Particulate Matter 2.5 reading at Delhi Secretariat decreased in the evening. But in four other centres it went up significantly compared to Thursday evening. Experts said this could be because of crackers burst on New Year's eve.
Setting a personal example, Kejriwal, chief minister since February 2015, shared his SUV to go to office with two ministers, his personal secretary and a joint secretary.
Police agreed that most of Delhi abided by the odd-even policy.
"There have been very few violations," Additional Commissioner of Police Sharad Aggarwal told IANS. "Even those who violated had some valid reason. Most people followed the scheme."
The odd-even policy has many exemptions including two-wheelers, which number in lakhs, cars driven by women, emergency vehicles and a string of VIPs. CNG-driven public transport is also excluded.
Residents said one additional reason for the low traffic on Friday could be because it was New Year day -- with a weekend ahead.
The government has said violators would be fined Rs.2,000. But police said fining was not their main aim.
A police officer said: "We are educating people about the scheme. We are telling motorists this is for the good of all."
Assisting the traffic police across the capital's many road junctions were civilian volunteers. At some places, they handed over roses to motorists breaking the curbs in a bid to change their mindset.
Delhi has nearly 90 lakh registered vehicles, with cars accounting for nearly a third. The growing vehicular population has contributed to making Delhi one of the world's most polluted cities.
East Delhi resident Amrish Mishra told IANS that he spotted only two even-numbered vehicles as he drove all the way to Safdarjung Airport in south Delhi.
The overall mood among Delhi residents seemed to be upbeat. "We must support this novel initiative," Sachin Mehta, a sales executive who lives in Paschim Vihar, told IANS.
There was widespread praise on social media to Friday's experiment. Even those who had doubts about it had a word of appreciation. The luxury of driving on congestion-free roads was an added pleasure to many.
Transport Minister Rai, who came to work with Kejriwal, told IANS: "It is a historic step towards reducing pollution level."
Delhi Metro ran 70 more trips but the anticipated extra rush appeared to be missing. DTC buses were not crowded either.
Although chief ministers and governors from across the country are among the VIPs exempt from the scheme, Kejriwal had said he will abide by it.
Delhi Tourism Minister Kapil Mishra rode a motorcycle to Secretariat. Another minister, Imran Hussain, took an e-rickshaw to go to office.
Environmentalists have welcomed the odd-even policy which will cut down the number of vehicles on roads but they are not sure how effective it will be in curbing pollution.
Officials admit the real test will come on Monday when the working week begins.