POLITICS

RTI Finds Kejriwal Government Didn't Spend A Penny From Rs 787 Crore It Collected As Environment Cess

AAP has accused the Centre for blocking all its projects.

16/11/2017 9:01 AM IST | Updated 16/11/2017 9:03 AM IST
Adnan Abidi / Reuters

NEW DELHI -- The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Wednesday blamed the Centre for blocking projects as an RTI query revealed that the Kejriwal government did not spend even a paisa out of the Rs 787 crore it collected as environment cess since January 1 this year.

As the capital city grappled with dangerously high pollution levels, the Right to Information (RTI) query on Wednesday found the Delhi government was unable to specify its utilisation of the Rs 787 crore green cess collected during 2017.

The government said it spent Rs 93 lakh of the cess in 2016, but there was "no mention of any expenditure" in 2017.

The AAP government came under attack from the opposition parties following the revelation.

Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken slammed the city government and said they could have bought new buses with this money and also augmented total parking capacity of the bus depots.

Lashing out at Kejriwal, Maken said: "Instead of using the money which is lying idle, he is busy aiming at other state governments and the Centre instead of doing his bit."

Maken said Kejriwal could have purchased road vacuum cleaners, as the dust "is the single-biggest contributory factor for air pollution" in Delhi.

"When we were in power, the strength of the DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) was 5,445 buses, which has now gone down to 3,951 buses. There has been a shortfall of 1,500 buses in three years," he said.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) instead blamed the central government for its failure to spend Rs 787 crore of environmental cess and accused it of blocking the projects to control pollution.

AAP's chief spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj said they never said that the Delhi government had shortage of funds.

"Though government wanted to purchase buses, but the central government did not allot land for bus depots," he said.

He also said that the government had approached the central government for permission for aerial sprinkling of water to control pollution and was even ready to spend the money.

Bharadwaj told IANS that the government had been taking other measures like spraying of water on roads to control dust, but environment cess was not being utilised for it and was being done using other funds.

When asked about other pollution control measures like installation of air purifiers and vacuum cleaning of roads, the leader said that both options were looked into, but they were not found feasible.

Meanwhile, the Delhi government said it had prepared a one-year short-term plan to tackle air pollution.

A Delhi government official said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal held a meeting with senior officials on Tuesday evening and directed that the environmental cess and environmental ambient air fund be used for procurement of buses.

On the government's plans, he said: "The Delhi government has prepared a one-year short-term plan, under which it proposes to procure 500 electric buses within one year."

He said the government was planning to procure buses of two different sizes -- Standard and Medium. According to him, a standard size bus costs Rs 2.6 crore while the medium size bus comes for Rs 1.6 crore.

Later, Saurabh Bhardwaj tweeted that the Lt Governor was not allotting land for depots for the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) fleet.

"Government has plan to buy 500 electrical buses, but no depots to park them. LG (Lt Governor) controls land," he tweeted.

On Wednesday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal met his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar in Chandigarh here and the two agreed to take steps to prevent a repeat of smog in the National Capital Region (NCR) next year.

"We ... are happy to have had a very fruitful meeting at Chandigarh. We recognise our deep and shared concern over the recent episode of heavy smog in NCR. We agreed upon the need for action on many measures aimed at preventing its re-occurrence in the winter of 2018," a joint statement said.

Meanwhile, the Air Quality Index (AQI) of the national capital fell under "very poor" category on Wednesday, though it is said to have improved as compared to past week.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the average AQI of Delhi-NCR at 6 p.m was 353 on Wednesday while the major pollutant PM 2.5 (particles with diameter less than 2.5 mm) was recorded 353 units -- technically considered "very poor".

The average PM2.5 of Delhi at 6 p.m. was 351 units -- 14 times the safe limit.

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