Pollution control effort hit by lack of funds: Ministry
The union environment and forest ministry has told a House panel that its efforts to check pollution will be affected because it has received 30% less funds than what it demanded in the annual budget. The ministry maintained that the paucity of funds is “going to impact the activities under pollution control, especially taking up 20 more non-attainment cities in addition to the existing 102, under the National Clean Air Programme.”
Last August, 20 more cities across eight states were added by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to its list of polluted cities that do not meet the national ambient air quality standard NAAQS. Dubbed as non-attainment cities, these places are the top priority for the Centre in controlling pollution.
The report of the parliamentary standing committee on Demand for Grants of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change revealed that the ministry wanted Rs 600 crore for ‘Control of Pollution’ during 2020-21 but got Rs 460 crore. “It was going to impact the activities under pollution control, especially taking up 20 more non-attainment cities in addition to the existing 102, under the National Clean Air Programme,” it said.
The panel led by former environment minister Jairam Ramesh suggested that the Centre must give “topmost priority” to control air pollution and provide additional funds in the coming months. “The allocation of additional funds would help support additional 22 non-attainment cities under ‘Control of Pollution’ scheme. The Committee, therefore, recommends that the Ministry must be provided the requisite allocation as sought by the Ministry with respect to these two programmes at the RE stage.”
Last year, in post-Diwali Delhi, pollution reached an alarming level. AQI touched 494 on November 3, the most hazardous level since 2016. A blanket of smog covered Delhi and people complained of breathlessness and burning sensation in their eyes before wind blew away pollutants, showing how the Capital was defenceless against unfavourable weather conditions that exacerbate the impact of local sources of pollution and farm fires in Punjab and Haryana.
Overall too, the ministry has received lower funds than its projected expenses for FY20-21. During a meeting between ministry officials and panel members on February 18, 2020, it was discussed that the ministry had projected a demand of Rs 4,295.44 crore for FY2020-21 but received an allocation of Rs 3,100 crore.
“The committee asked the ministry about the bare minimum increase required in the budgetary allocations for the year 2020-21 to sustain its key programmes. In response, the ministry stated that they require at least Rs 600 crore additional funds to sustain its key programmes/schemes during the year,” the report added.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman also earmarked Rs 4400 crore to the urban development ministry for providing clean air in cities with above one million population in her budget. The panel said that since this fund is more than the entire annual budget of the environment ministry, the 46 Indian cities with above 1 million people should be kept out of the list of 102 non-attainment cities to help the environment ministry cope with the shortfall of funds