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Green tax helped Delhi collect hundreds of crores for buses. So where are they?

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The Arvind Kejriwal govt is believed to have collected around Rs 1,800 cr till September 2018, but Delhi is yet to get new buses.

New Delhi: The winter months are back with the suffocating blanket of smog that has now become a Delhi fixture, but crucial steps that can help check the capital’s notorious pollution problem continue to hang fire.

A fund running into hundreds of crores of rupees is reportedly lying untapped with the Delhi government even as the capital awaits buses that could boost public transport and  ease traffic and cut vehicular emissions, a major source of Delhi’s pollution.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court introduced an ‘environment compensation charge (ECC)’ for the largely diesel-powered commercial goods vehicles that pass through Delhi on their way across the country.

The charge decided was Rs 700 for light-duty and two-axle vehicles, and Rs 1,300 for three-axle vehicles, with the Supreme Court saying the money collected should be spent on roads, public transport and cycle tracks.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which took office in Delhi the same year with a resounding mandate, said it would use the ECC collections to buy more buses for the bustling metropolis. But the money, collected from all four municipal corporations and sent to the Delhi Transport department, is lying unused.

Delhi’s public bus strength remains around half the ideal two months before a Supreme Court deadline to boost the number from around 5,500 to 10,000 ends on 31 December. There have been no new buses added to Delhi’s roads since 2010.

Also read: Bus karo: Delhi govt will hire 500 buses for odd-even, hasn’t bought one since 2010

Money in hand but no buses

According to the Arvind Kejriwal government’s response to a query filed by RTI activist Sanjeev Jain, the ECC collections between January and September 2017 alone totalled Rs 787 crore. Another Rs 50 crore was collected in 2015 and Rs 387 crore in 2016, the government added.

September 2017 was also the month the Delhi government issued tenders for 2,000 buses – 1,000 each for cluster and DTC operations.

These tenders — for standard-floor-height buses as opposed to the low-floor ones — were challenged in the Delhi High Court on account of being inconvenient for the disabled. This case was disposed of this month, clearing the way for the purchase. But in the two years preceding the case no procurement was made.

The only expense drawn from the corpus, the Kejriwal government said in the RTI reply, was Rs 93 lakh, from the tax collected in 2016.

The Delhi government also claimed that an earlier tender for low-floor buses did not materialise because they could not get a feasible deal from sellers. However, two of the players named — Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland — contested the claim in the Delhi High Court in January this year, saying no tender had been floated since 2014.

ThePrint contacted AAP spokesperson Nagendar Sharma for comment, but he refused to respond. Requests for comment from the Delhi transport and environment departments did not elicit a response either.

No headway

As it drew criticism from the opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last year for not utilising the money to fight pollution, the AAP government announced it would use a portion of the green tax to buy 500 electric buses in November 2017. But no buses have been procured since the announcement.

“From the rough figures from September (2018), the government had close to Rs 1,800 crore collected under the ECC,” Polash Mukherjee, a senior researcher in the air pollution team at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), told ThePrint.

“Out of this, they recently spent around Rs 100 crore on RFID (radio frequency identification toll set-up),” he added.

As a possible explanation for why the money hasn’t been used to buy buses, Mukherjee cited the court case over the floor height of buses, which went on in both the Delhi High Court as well as the Supreme Court.

It was reported earlier this month that the Delhi government had finally placed an order for standard-floor CNG buses under the cluster scheme, the first batch of which is likely to be rolled out in the next three months, but the source of the funds is unclear.

Also read: Delhi commuters pollute the most & Kejriwal’s missing buses add to the problem: Report

The order came after the Delhi government received the courts’ nod, in light of the capital’s pollution situation, to go ahead with the purchase of the 2,000 buses on the condition that they will be equipped with hydraulic lifts for the benefit of disabled passengers.

In July this year, when the Delhi government proposed to induct 1,000 electric buses in the city to combat air pollution, it was pulled up by the Supreme Court for failing to utilise the funds to increase the number of buses in the city.

The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA) had reported in court that a review of the funds allocated for the transport department showed they had not been used for the procurement of buses. They also said that the AAP’s proposal for procurement of electric buses did not list the arrangements made for the requisite infrastructure, like charging points etc.

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  1. Somethings not quite ryt here. It seems as if certain forces are not letting a govt work in peace for the simple reason that it’s too honest and sincere, something which is too alien for the opposition to stomach.

  2. The project has recently got approval from Delhi High Court. Prior to that this project was mired in numerous obstacles from lack of depot space as old buses had to be removed to new space allocations not being approved by DDA which works under the centre, to the illegal centre’s order to make the del LG to become the ultimate decision making body that has now been quashed by the Supreme Court and then multiple legal cases.

    I wish a new agency like yours makes an attempt to tell the whole story and be more prudent and fair in choosing the titles of your article. Please do not hesitate to refer to Del Transport related new articles here –

    Hope it helps and expecting a fairer coverage in future.

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