Mist from an anti smog gun deployed at a construction site to tackle pollution fills the air in Greater Noida west, India, on Friday, October 23, 2020.(Photo by Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times)
Mist from an anti smog gun deployed at a construction site to tackle pollution fills the air in Greater Noida west, India, on Friday, October 23, 2020.(Photo by Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times)

States granted Rs 2,200 crore to fight air pollution

The Union government approved the release of 2,200 crore to fight air pollution to 42 cities with a population in excess of a million -- money that will be used under the National Clean Air Programme to improve air quality in these cities.
By Jayashree Nandi | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON NOV 04, 2020 05:39 AM IST

The Union government approved the release of 2,200 crore to fight air pollution to 42 cities with a population in excess of a million -- money that will be used under the National Clean Air Programme to improve air quality in these cities.

The money (transferred through states) will go towards capacity building of the local urban bodies and state pollution control boards. Delhi, with the worst air in the country, is not among the cities that will receive funds under this grant. While Delhi is among the 102 cities covered by NCAP, it has not received any funding under NCAP.

Greater Mumbai has received the highest share of funds, 244 crore followed by Kolkata (192 crores), Bengaluru (139.5 crore) and Chennai (90 crore).

A November 2 communication from the Finance Commission Division to the accounts officer at the Chief Controller of Accounts in the department of expenditure, ministry of finance details the allocation. The 2020-21 report of the finance commission had recommended the grant of 4,400 crore to NCAP. The programme, launched in January last year, aims to reduce by 20-30%, the PM 2.5 (respirable, pollution particles) concentrations in over a hundred cities compared to 2017 levels.

The report released last November also explained Delhi’s exclusion. “We are also deeply concerned with the issue of ‘ease of breathing’ in the National Capital Region (NCR), especially the extremely hazardous levels of pollution in October-November of each year. One of the main reasons for this is the burning of crop residue in the surrounding states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. We are unable to make an allocation to address this as Delhi is not a state. Besides, the pollution hazard in the NCR is very unique as the air-shed contributing to pollution extends to three neighbouring states,” the Commission noted in the report, adding that it is “ therefore recommended that the Union Government constitute a high power committee, consisting of the ministries of Finance, Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, the Governments of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, to devise, implement and monitor a time-bound action plan for pollution mitigation under the National Clean Air Programme.”

The state governments are supposed to directly transfer the grants to city administrations within 10 days of receipt. Any delay would mean that state will have to release the funds with interest. Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted on Tuesday: “The government, based on the recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission has released 2,200 crores as the first instalments to 15 states for the improvement of air quality measures in their million plus cities. ”

The 15th Finance Commission report specifies that the environment ministry in consultation with states will develop a city-wise and year wise targets for ambient air quality based on annual average concentration of PM 10 and PM 2.5 ; and monitor and evaluate improvement and recommend disbursal of grants accordingly to cities. “The second instalment shall be disbursed against the stipulated performance-based outcomes in terms of year-on-year improvement in air quality in January 2021,” the report states.

But MoEFCC is yet to come out with benchmarks for monitoring of use of funds and improvement in air quality; the deadline for this was April. “MoEFCC is in the final stages of formulating a framework for monitoring the use of funds. In fact, Central Pollution Control Board is developing the framework with the state governments. The Finance Commission report is very clear that the second instalment of the funds will be performance based. Delhi is not included in the list because it is a union territory. Finance Commission doesn’t provide these funds to UTs,” a senior environment ministry official said.

Experts are concerned about how these substantial grants will be utilised. “The Finance Commission grants represent an important step forward. The allocations are substantial...,” said Santosh Harish, fellow at Centre for Policy Research.

“There will be some challenges this year... Unfortunately, except for a few cities like Patna, most city action plans don’t yet lend themselves well for this effort. Some grantee cities like Chennai are not part of NCAP and therefore may be less prepared. There are some other sources of uncertainty as well. To what extent can polluting activities outside the direct jurisdiction of the urban local bodies be targeted through these grants?”.

A Delhi government spokesperson said, “Centre’s decision to not give any funds to Delhi from 2,200 Cr... shows its pettiness and complete lack of political will when it comes to the problem of pollution in Delhi. Pollution is a health emergency for the entire of north India and it knows no boundaries.”

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