New Delhi: A parliamentary standing committee has flagged issues of lack of transparency and “misappropriation” of funds in certain schemes under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change found the overall utilisation of funds by the ministry to be “satisfactory”, but its report raised concerns over the implementation of the ‘Control of Pollution’ and afforestation schemes. The ministry was allocated Rs 3,100 crore in 2020-21.
The Control of Pollution is a central government scheme under which the National Clean Air Programme was launched as a “long-term, time-bound, national-level strategy to tackle the air pollution problem across the country”. It was allocated Rs 460 crore by the ministry for the year 2020-21.
The committee said “there should be a central mechanism for coordination of various Central and State agencies and ensuring accountability through monitoring of the progress of the works undertaken”, as well as transparency in information relating to expenditure of ‘Control of Pollution’ scheme.
In the case of afforestation, which is mandatory for projects that fell trees, the committee said, “…although huge amount of money was being spent on such exercises, yet there was no mechanism to check either the credibility of the claims made by forest officers for having planted a given number of plants at a site and the number of plants which had survived after a certain period of time.”
The report said the committee had “expressed apprehension of money being siphoned off in such cases” in 2020-21 also, adding that its apprehension “cannot be ruled out” even though the ministry had “provided the details of the mechanism available for monitoring the 13 implementation of the works undertaken”.
The committee is headed by Congress leader and former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh.
Drop in funds
In the 2021-22 budget, the ministry was allocated Rs 2,869.9 crore — less than last year’s Rs 3,100 crore — though it had asked for Rs 4,066.30.
The ministry informed the committee that it would need a “bare minimum increase” of Rs 900 crore to sustain key programmes and schemes under it, including the Green India Mission, Forest Fire Prevention and Management, and Project Tiger.
“The reduction would impact allocation under all the key schemes/programmes of the Ministry during the year,” the committee wrote in the report, adding that the ministry should make “proactive efforts” to achieve its targets “so that it is on a firm footing to seek additional funds at the Supplementary and RE (revised estimate) stage”.
The ministry also faced a 35 per cent drop in allocations for the year 2020-21 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the revised estimate, the Rs 3,100 crore allocation was cut to Rs 2,015 crore. As on 31 January 2021, 83 per cent of these funds had been utilised.
“The various programmes and schemes run by the Ministry faced issues in achieving all the outcomes envisaged for the year 2020-21 including key Schemes such as Green India Mission (GIM) and Control of Pollution,” notes the report, adding, “The reduction in funds will also lead to non-release of 5 funds for all proposed activities mentioned in the Annual Plan of Operations (APOs) of various schemes.”
In its report, the committee also recommended the installation of “superchargers for electric vehicles” in cities affected by pollution and “effective Microorganism bio-digesters units”, which could help reduce stubble burning.
It was also “dismayed” to note that expenditure on the R&D Scheme for Conservation and Development has been less than 50 per cent since 2018. “…under utilisation of the funds raises doubts about the achievements of the physical targets set under various programmes under the scheme too. Facilitating research and development and investing for the same are extremely critical,” it said.
(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)