The Kejriwal government's experiment to restrict the number of private cars on Delhi roads got a boost with the new Chief Justice of India, T S Thakur, supporting the move aimed at improving the air quality in the world's most polluted city.
"We don't have any problem if it helps," Justice Thakur said during an interaction with reporters on Sunday. But the move to allow cars with odd and even numbers to run on alternate days alone may not be enough to deal with the alarming level of pollution; "There has to be a multipronged approach," he added.
His endorsement isn't surprising as the Supreme Court has been proactive in taking steps to clean up the air of the city, from ordering commercial vehicles to switch to the less-polluting fuel of CNG from diesel, to the recent decision of imposing a cess on trucks passing through Delhi.
The CJI's comment won't stop anyone from approaching the court challenging the government's decision, but Thakur himself is unlikely to hear any such petition now that he has made his stand clear.
Justice Thakur said the top judiciary would embrace the policy wholeheartedly, and seek ways to pool cars. Most of the SC judges live in Delhi's Lutyens zone. So, for instance, Justice Thakur could carpool with Justice A K Sikri, his neighbour.
"We should send a message. If SC judges can, why not others," he said. "There is no difficulty. It's not a sacrifice, it's symbolic." The CJI said he had noticed the smog caused by Punjab farmers burning paddy in their fields and brought it up with the prime minister. Narendra Modi told him that he had spoken about the issue in his 'Mann Ki Baat' radio programme.
Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was quick to thank the Chief Justice for the support, calling it a "huge encouragement". Judges pooling cars would inspire millions to follow, Kejriwal tweeted.
The CJI's comments came on a day Delhi public works department minister Satyendar Jain said the AAP administration had almost finalised the days on which even and odd number cars would be permitted to run in the Capital beginning 1 January.
Odd-numbered cars, in all probability, will be allowed on Monday, Wednesday and Friday while even-numbered vehicles will be allowed to ply on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, said Jain. Sundays will be "free for all" which would allow people to "get their work done". All details will be finalised before 1 January, he said.
Explaining Kejriwal's comments on a 15-day trial period, Jain said the CM had meant there would be a "review after 15 days". Other details could then be finetuned. When asked how the government planned to get the police on board especially since it has expressed skepticism about the idea, Jain said, "Police's work is to implement laws and government's job is to frame laws. They will implement it."