When journalists also pitched in…

BY AMITABH SRIVASTAVA| IN Media Practice | 19/01/2016
The media overcame its scepticism of the odd-even scheme to publicise and support the scheme in a big way.
AMITABH SRIVASTAVA was impressed

 

With the successful completion of the odd even vehicle number scheme, it is time for celebrations and thanksgiving.

The way the people of Saddi Dilli, known for their ‘tu jaanta hai main kaun hoon’ attitude, responded to the crisis was unprecedented. For the first time in a very long time, all sections of society – the media, the courts, the government, the public – came together to cooperate for the sake of the public good. What we saw was participatory governance at work and it was inspiring.

It’s not that the odd even experiment has led to a significant reduction of pollution levels in the city. In fact the figures could give a different picture if you consider all the conflicting reports that are coming out. It’s that society pulled together for once instead of pulling apart.

The experiment was triggered by a report of the Delhi Pollution Committee pointing out the dangerous levels that pollution had touched in the capital, making Delhi the most polluted city not only in India but the world.

Such reports had been issued earlier and so too had suggestions that the number of vehicles on the roads should be limited but the difference this time round was that Arvind Kejriwal was at the helm and he decided to take the problem head on and launch the odd even scheme on January 1.

Initially, reactions were largely negative. This is stupid, crazy, there is not enough public transport available, the police will not co operate, the Metro will overcrowded and the manufacturers of fake number plates will flourish.

Luckily, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court threw their full weight behind this trial. Taking the lead, the Chief Justice of India volunteered to join the car pool scheme to reach the courts during the duration of the scheme.

The contempt with which the Supreme Court treated a PIL by a young advocate who said he was very hassled at travelling from one court to another was indicative of the new mood. The Bench comprising Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justices A.K. Sikri and R. Banumathi remarked tersely “People are dying of pollution, which has reached alarming levels in the national capital…and here you are filing a frivolous public interest litigation to garner some cheap publicity.”

The media pitched in with a dose of scepticism initially, running negative stories about the impracticality of the scheme and the inadequacy of public transport. But within days of the project being launched, it had been converted.

Newspapers like The Hindustan Times, The Times of India and The Hindu showed a clear contrast between reporting and editorials. The seniors who wrote the edits were the sceptics who thought they had seen the world and lived long to know that such schemes would never succeed in India.

For instance, an inside story in HT  titled “Is odd even the only answer” has damning details of the botched up experience of Beijing with this experiment.  “Several studies on the impact of permanent travel restrictions in Beijing based on the odd even formula reveal that in the two years following the regulations those who could afford to buy a second vehicle opted for purchasing a new vehicle to circumvent the formula…resulting in a whopping 40 per cent of vehicle returning to the streets” was one of the findings.

But the  local pages of the same newspaper had positive news: a beaming Kejriwal urging people to observe odd even scheme voluntarily, another headline warns people that one out of three Delhites had bad lungs and the third is a report quoting TERI that “In addition to the reduction in emissions from cars the odd even scheme had reduced on road congestion. The average car speeds monitored by TERI on NH 24 increased by 15 to 20 per cent.”

Overall,  city reporters came out whole hog in support of the challenge for some strange reason. They highlighted the news that even the Chief Justice of India was reaching the court through car pooling. And of course Kejriwal’s cabinet colleagues car pooled. Cub reporters filed stories of how the Audi and Mercedes-owing denizens of Defence Colony were coming together to support the car-pooling scheme.  

Within a week, the scheme had become a revolution and TV channels as well as newspapers had started using pictures to show the conditions of the same road on a particular date in December and again in January.

Popular radio anchors such as Richa Anirudh of Meri Dilli Meri Jaan pitched in, acting like co-ordinators between commuters in trouble, the Delhi Government and the police and urging everyone to follow the odd even rule through her Facebook and Twitter accounts. The social media played its role too, actively supporting the scheme and labelling those who expressed resentment for personal reasons ‘selfish’. 

Almost every single TV channel chipped in with a positive story, and gave local reporters a free hand for a change to report on the revolution under way.

The Delhi High Court took notice of this phenomenon when it clearly stated in its report on the experiment that the success of the scheme was not due to the fear of being fined but to the whole hearted and enthusiastic participation of the people of Delhi.

 

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