Clean up act: Following underutilisation of last year's outlay, a Finance Commission of ₹2200 crore was allotted towards fighting air pollution in Indian cities | Photo: Down to Earth

Budget 2021-22: Centre sets aside ₹2217 crore for air pollution control in 42 cities

The Centre allocated Rs2217 crore to fight air pollution in 42 cities with over a million population for the financial year starting April 1. The budget is almost half of the ₹4400 crore that was allocated in last year’s budget. Most of that money was not spent.

Last year’s funds remained largely unutilised by the urban local bodies, reported India Climate Dialogue. The federal finance ministry had released ₹2200 crore as the first installment in November 2020. In a first time, however, the government allocated ₹20 crore for the newly formed statutory body Commission for Air Quality Management for the National Capital Region and adjoining areas.

The ₹407 crore for ‘Control of Pollution’ includes financial assistance provided to pollution control Boards/Committees and funding to the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), launched in January 2019. An allocation of ₹18,000 crore was provided to support public bus transport services. Experts said it is expected to bring down air pollution.

Budget: Vehicle scrappage policy soon, a crore vehicles to go off the road

The Centre announced a voluntary vehicle scrapping policy in the Union budget, which is estimated to remove around one crore old vehicles, currently in circulation. Personal vehicles older than 20 years and commercial vehicles older than 15 years will have to undergo fitness tests in automated vehicle fitness testing centres.

Road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari is expected to issue the policy by the middle of this month. Gadkari told the Indian Express that based on this policy, India will become the world’s top automobile manufacturer in the next five years. He added that after scrapping their vehicles, people will surely buy new ones. That will boost demand, create around 35,000 jobs, and take the size of the automobile industry to around ₹6 lakh crore from the current ₹4.5 lakh crore. Under the policy, anyone scrapping an old vehicle will get a certificate of scrapping and using that might get a discount of up to 5% while purchasing a new vehicle. There are also talks to make the certificate more useful in terms of availing a vehicle loan on easier terms for commercial vehicles.

Burning fossil fuel causes one in five premature deaths globally: study

Burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas is far more deadly than what has been believed so far. A new study found it causes one in five premature deaths globally. Over 30% deaths in India can be attributed to air pollution from fossil fuels. About 2.5 million people die in India annually because of polluted air. 

According to the study published in the journal Environmental Research, China, India, Europe and the northeastern US are among the hardest-hit areas, suffering a disproportionately high share of 8.7 million annual deaths attributed to coal, oil and gas. The study pointed out that although India has imposed control on pollution sources since 2012, there is no evidence of air quality improvements in heavily populated cities like Delhi. While Uttar Pradesh reported the maximum number of premature deaths (0.47 million) in 2012, followed by Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, Sikkim reported the least (359).

The research compares the results to a previous estimate that found 4.2 million deaths could be attributed to pollution caused by fossil fuels. 

Air pollution in south India increased after lockdown: CSE analysis

The air is not safer to breathe in south India compared to north. This was the conclusion of a recent analysis of air pollution in south Indian cities by the Centre For Science and Environment (CSE). 

Air pollution increased in the cities in south India this winter after the COVID-19 lockdown, the new analysis revealed. While particulate concentration reduced during the lockdown, it spiked with the onset of winter, according to a statement. While several bigger cities witnessed a reduction in annual trends in particulate matter or PM2.5, smaller towns and cities experienced an increase. This reflected the trend in local and regional build-up of pollution, the statement said. The average December PM2.5 level was considerably higher in inland cities compared to coastal cities this year.

Even though the average level of PM2.5 for the summer and monsoon months in 2020 was considerably lower than the previous year because of the summer lockdown, the PM2.5 levels this past winter rose beyond that in 2019 in most of the monitored cities. The study said the region cannot rely only on the natural advantage of warmer winters and sea breeze to avoid bad air. 

Hungary ‘systematically & persistently’ breached pollution limits: EU top court

European Union’s top court said Hungary has “systematically and persistently” breached legal limits on air pollution from particulate matter, in some regions for over a decade. Europe has marked air pollution as the top environmental health risk. The EU attributed 379,000 premature deaths in the region to fine particulate matter pollution in 2018.

EU laws have required countries to limit particulate matter since 2005. Hungary is among the nine EU countries found guilty of illegal air pollution since 2011. Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden all breached particulate matter limits, while France had illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide.In Hungary, 13,100 premature deaths were attributed to fine particulate matter in 2018, according to the European Environment Agency. 

Germany makes targets for transport sector more ambitious 

Germany approved a draft law that increased the pollution targets for its transport sector. The more ambitious law aims for 2030 levels to be 22% below those in 1990, the current target is just over 6%.

The new target was paired with goals to raise the share of renewable energy used in transport to 28% by 2030, supported by incentives for the use of electric cars, the production of green hydrogen from solar and wind power, and biofuels from waste. The law would provide for the step-by-step reduction in the use of some biofuels, such as palm oil, from food crops or forests.

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