As Delhi chokes, almost Rs787 cr of 'green fund' remains unused

While the Delhi National Capital Region continues to battle smog, a Right to Information (RTI) query has revealed that the Delhi government used only Rs93 lakh out of the Rs787 crore it had collected as environment cess.

The 'green tax' to be spent on measures to battle the killer pollution that grips the city every year and augment public transport lies unused even as the Delhi Transport Corporation has not procured a single bus since 2010.

The reply to the RTI petition filed by Sanjeev Jain revealed that the Delhi government had received over Rs50 crore as environment cess in 2015. Thereafter, there was a massive increase in collection in 2016 and 2017, when the Aam Admi Party government collected Rs386 crore and Rs787 crore respectively.

Of this, the government had spent just Rs93 lakh, paid to the South Delhi Municipal Corporation for preparation of documents for the radio-frequency identification (RFID) system at toll plazas.

The Supreme Court had asked the Delhi government to utilise the fund for improving the public transport system, saying it may help reduce vehicular pollution.

But the DTC fleet has shrunk from 5,121 buses in 2010 to 3,944 at present.

The government said it was not lack of funds but shortage of parking space for new buses and other issues that had hampered the augmentation of DTC's fleet. The government had cited the problem of parking space for buses earlier in the year as well.

"We can buy buses but there are no parking spaces available. The Centre will not allot space for the government. We cannot accept that the Centre will not give us land in the long run. The Centre has been delaying our projects and they keep sitting on our proposals seeking parking spaces for the buses," AAP MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj said.

On Wednesday, the Delhi government chalked out a short-term plan to procure 500 electric buses. As per the one-year plan, 500 low-floor, air-conditioned e-buses would be procured, a senior Delhi government official told PTI, adding that the transport minister had met the Delhi Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) officials in this regard on Tuesday.

The RTI reply came amid a meeting between Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar on Wednesday.

During the meeting, they resolved to put in "sustained efforts" to check pollution and discussed measures to ensure smog does not envelop the national capital in the winter of 2018.

The joint statement released after the meeting said that during the discussions, the two sides agreed that "serious health risks to which such episodes of smog expose one and all require concrete and quick action on a number of fronts".