The Delhi government, in the last seven years, collected Rs 385 crore to fund its war on air pollution, but around 87% of this money has remained unspent, a planning department report has said.
Successive Delhi governments have not been serious about improving the notoriously bad quality of air that people breathe in the national capital. As pollution gradually peaked to alarming levels, governments sat on special ‘air quality’ funds, official documents accessed by Mail Today reveal.
The Delhi government, in the last seven years, collected Rs 385 crore to fund its war on air pollution, but around 87% of this money has remained unspent, a planning department report has said. These seven years include mostly Congress rule, besides a year of President’s rule, and two brief stints of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
This, when air pollution has in the last 14 years doubled in the capital, the report says. The quantum of particulate matter 10 (particles smaller than 10 microns in diameter that lodge deep in lungs and blood cells) has gone up from 150 microgram per cubic meter in 2001 to 318 in 2014.
The current PM 10 levels is more than 5 times what is considered safe (60 microgram per cubic meter). Between 2007-08 and 2014-15, the government’s environment department has collected Rs 385.65 crore by levying an environment cess of 0.25 paise on the sale of every litre of diesel in Delhi under the Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981. But only Rs 49.57 crore has been spent so far. Worse, this money has only gone to reimburse concession on purchase of battery operated vehicles.
Anumita Roy Chowdhury, senior expert at advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said, “They have created a fund but there has been no strategy for its effective use. Funding concession on electric vehicles is very limited utilisation. They must immediately create a proper, comprehensive programme.”
Roy Chowdhury said PM 10 (a mixture of extremely fine particles and liquid droplets like acids, chemicals, gas, water, metals, dust) was a good indicator to show how Delhi’s air quality has become extremely dangerous. “Pollution is rising because of vehicles. This demands emergency measures to protect public health,” she said.
The planning department report says the number of vehicles registered in Delhi has increased from 31.64 lakh in 1999-2000 to 88.27 lakh in 2014-15 – a rise of a whopping 179 per cent. As many as 5.69 lakh vehicles have been added in the last one year alone.
“The growth in vehicular population must also be curbed at the earliest. And this cannot be done without scaling up public transport. We want the cess should be increased to Rs 2.25 to dis-incentivise diesel (the most polluting fuel), and the money thus collected should go in fighting pollution and improving public transport,” she said.
She said if no further action is taken to radically improve public transport, walking and cycling, Delhi will gasp for breath, pay unacceptable fuel costs and spew warming gases like never before. “Bus transport ridership has dropped from 60 per cent in 2000 to 40 per cent in 2010. With each bus trip lost to cars and two-wheelers, pollution and health costs will worsen,” she said.
AAP, meanwhile, defended itself. “The blame for non-utilisation of the fund collected to fight air pollution lies with the previous Congress government. We would see how best we can use this resource. We have commissioned a study to IIT-Kanpur to draw-up a plan to improve Delhi’s air quality which has found the world’s worst by a WHO study,” said a senior government official.
The National Green Tribunal which wants all old, polluting vehicles off Delhi roads has said time and again that the Capital’s air remains ‘highly polluted’, dangerous to human health and environment, and drastic measures are needed to protect residents against health hazards.
The tribunal banned polluting vehicles but later stayed the same till agreements from government and other agencies are heard.
The AAP government’s budget has raised hopes. The budget has prioritised public transport augmentation. The total proposed expenditure in the transport sector in 2015-16 is Rs 5,085 crore, which is 23 per cent more than 2014-15. “The government has proposed to impose congestion tax on incoming trucks. This is a welcome move,” CSE has said.