Delhi air pollution: As Capital chokes, AAP govt sits on Rs 829 crore green fund
The Delhi government said it had spent Rs 93 lakh of the environment cess in 2016, but there was “no mention of any expenditure” in 2017.delhi Updated: Nov 16, 2017 10:51 IST
At a time when Delhi’s pollution levels have triggered a public health emergency, the Arvind Kejriwal government is sitting on an unutilised “green tax” worth hundreds of crores of rupees meant for augmenting public transport.
The Delhi government spent only Rs 93 lakh of the Rs 829 crore it collected as ‘environment compensation charge’ from goods vehicles entering the city, documents accessed by Hindustan Times show.
The amount was collected between November 6, 2015 and November 1, 2017. The Supreme Court had directed the Delhi government in 2015 that all money collected from cess levied on goods vehicles must be spent on roads, public transport, and cycle tracks.
An RTI filed by a Delhi resident, Sanjeev Jain, revealed that the Delhi government had collected Rs 787 crore until September 30 this year. The findings were made public on Wednesday.
An updated document accessed by HT showed that the collections had gone up by another Rs 42 crore until the beginning of this month.
The South Delhi Municipal Corporation, which collects the green tax and sends the money to the state transport department, charges Rs 700 for light-duty and two-axle vehicles and Rs 1,300 for three-axle vehicles.
In addition, another Rs 500 crore collected as cess on every litre of diesel sold since 2008, is also lying unspent. There had been no direction given to the government on how to spend this money.
Delhi’s total bus fleet is 5,425 against a sanctioned strength of 11,000 as mandated by the Delhi high court. Each standard-floor bus costs about Rs 45 lakh. The Delhi government had to roll back its decision to implement the odd-even road rationing scheme, citing the lack of buses for exemptions that had been struck down by the National Green Tribunal.
The Congress promptly attacked the AAP following the RTI response. It said the city government was not utilising funds for strengthening the public transport system, and instead was involved in “blame game”.
“It is complete negligence on the part of (chief minister) Kejriwal’s government. It has not been able to utilise Rs 787 crore which is lying idle,” Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken told IANS. “The public transport system in Delhi is in shambles.”
The Congress leader slammed the AAP government and said they could have bought new buses with this money, and also augmented total parking capacity of the bus depots.
Maken also said Kejriwal could have purchased road vacuum cleaners, as the dust “is the single biggest contributory factor for air pollution” in Delhi. “He (Kejriwal) is passing the buck and trying to get attention,” he said.
Asked why the money had not been spent, the government said it was never short of funds when it came to buying buses. Instead, a government spokesman blamed the Centre for not giving it enough land for parking.
“This fund can only be spent according to strict SC guidelines. Delhi government has never cited shortage of funds for public transport, but we had other constraints in procuring buses. The Delhi Development Authority is not giving us land for bus depots. You cannot splurge funds irrationally,” said Nagendar Sharma, media advisor to the chief minister.
Calling the revelations a contempt of court, the leader of opposition in the Delhi assembly, Vijender Gupta of the BJP, said the Kejriwal government had forced the people of Delhi to breathe poisonous air. “The money could have been used to improve public transport. Vacuum cleaners to reduce dust could have been purchased,” Gupta said.
Facing flak from the Opposition, the government on Wednesday evening announced it would use some of the “green tax” funds on buying 500 electric buses.
Experts, however, said that e-buses were not the solution for Delhi’s immediate problems because they were harder to procure.
“The majority of buses in Delhi in the short- to medium-term will have to be CNG-powered,” said Shreya Gaddepalli, South Asia regional director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an NGO that works on public transport policies.
(With agency inputs)
First Published: Nov 15, 2017 22:03 IST