India has been grappling with severe air pollution for several years, causing significant harm to public health and the environment. In response, the government launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) in 2019, aimed at reducing air pollution levels by 20-30% by 2024. However, a recent report by the Centre for Policy Research(CPR) reveals that the funds allocated for the NCAP have remained underutilized. Hence, hindering its effectiveness in curbing air pollution. The report highlights the lack of transparency and accountability in fund utilization has resulted in inadequate implementation of pollution control measures. Despite significant funds being allocated for this purpose.
The Delhi-based think tank, CPR, conducted a study on the financial health of state pollution boards. They collected information under the Right to Information Act and conducted interviews with regulatory staff from different states. The report focused on ten pollution control boards located in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and West Bengal.
According to a response given by Minister of State for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Ashwini Kumar Choubey in the Lok Sabha, of the Rs 472 crore released by the central government, the 132 cities under the program have only utilized Rs 227.6 crore as of June 2022. In the financial year 2020-21, the NCAP was allocated Rs. 4.4 billion, out of which only Rs. 2.25 billion were utilized.
Invested in FDs
The recent report by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) has found that ten state pollution control boards across the Indo-Gangetic Plain have surplus funds each year, which they invest in bank fixed deposits. The report found that most pollution control boards had surplus funds over the past three financial years (2018-2021), which they invested in bank fixed deposits. These findings contradict the widespread notion that state pollution control boards suffer from underfunding and poor management, which results in ineffective service delivery.
The report states that this underutilization of funds is due to several reasons,
- including a lack of coordination among different departments,
- slow implementation of projects, and
- a lack of capacity among the implementing agencies.
One of the primary reasons behind the underutilization of funds is the lack of coordination among different departments. The NCAP is implemented by multiple departments, including the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, the Central Pollution Control Board, and State Pollution Control Boards. The lack of coordination among these departments has led to delays in project implementation and a mismatch between the funds allocated and the projects being implemented. The report notes that different regulatory bodies often work in silos. Hence, leading to duplication of efforts and wastage of resources.
Lack of staff
According to the report state pollution control boards in India, do neither have enough staff nor expertise to monitor and regulate pollution. The report, which analyzed the staffing and expertise of 17 state pollution control boards across India, found that most boards were understaffed and lacked technical expertise. Further, the report highlighted boards' lack of staff affected the functioning of their mandated work effectively. In some cases, the boards had fewer than half the required staff. This lack of staff has resulted in a lack of monitoring and enforcement, with several polluting industries getting away with violating pollution control norms. In another case, many boards did not have the requisite number of qualified engineers and scientists, necessary to monitor pollution levels and recommend effective pollution control measures.
Measures to be taken
- To address these issues, the report recommends several measures to improve the utilization of funds by pollution regulators in India. One of the primary recommendations is the need for transparency and accountability in fund utilization. Some clear guidelines should be in place for the allocation and utilization of funds. In addition, there should be regular monitoring and evaluation of pollution control measures' implementation.
- The report also recommends the establishment of a centralized mechanism for the coordination of pollution control efforts. The mechanism should ensure that different regulatory bodies are working in tandem and that there is no duplication of efforts.
- The need for building technical capacity among the regulatory bodies responsible for pollution control is also an important step. The report recommends the establishment of training programs for regulatory officials. The programs would equip them with the required expertise in the field.
These reports have highlighted the urgent need for the effective utilization of funds by pollution regulators in India. It brings to our notice that without proper utilization of funds, the efforts to curb pollution in the country will remain inadequate. The recommendations made by the report provide a roadmap for improving the utilization of funds and strengthening the capacity of the pollution regulatory bodies.
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