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NEW DELHI: Retaining its focus on education and health in its budget for 2018-19, the Delhi government on Thursday adopted an innovative approach to reducing air pollution by presenting what it called a “Green Budget”. It’s a 26-point plan involving four departments and a multi-pronged approach. It spells out incentives for switching to cleaner options, lists measures it plans to take and also claims to have measured the potential outcome by way of reduction in pollutants if everything falls into place.
In a first, the government has set deadlines for completion of all projects, opening itself to scrutiny and criticism if there are delays. The only insurance it bought was Manish Sisodia’s refrain that it all depended on the LG giving approvals.

The government also underlined its economic vision, saying it did not believe in the trickle-down approach – seeking investments and hoping for all-round welfare, which it said had led to “widespread disparity and scams” – but in the “trickle-up” approach that directly benefits the poor and middle-class citizens, giving them better education and health, and facilitates an increase in their income.

Presenting the budget, with a mammoth outlay of Rs 53,000 crore, Sisodia said they believed in an “educated India, healthy India, strong India”, with the aam aadmi their main concern. He drew attention to continuation of the power subsidy to domestic consumers, for which Rs 1,720 crore has been proposed in the next fiscal. Allocation has also been enhanced to Rs 1,500 crore for development work in unauthorised colonies.

Sisodia questioned the grand announcements about smart cities, pointing out that nine out of 20 most polluted cities in the world were in India. So, the budget has roped in the departments of environment, transport, power and public works to make a difference with the help of (WRI) for the green budget.

It’s an incentive-driven budget (see graphic) whose success will depend on diligent implementation and regular monitoring. But it plays safe with no restraint measures or solutions that risk becoming unpopular, such as imposing a congestion charge, taxing polluters or hiking parking fee.

In fact, air quality researchers feel the government should have budgeted for a monitoring unit that would assess the performance of the schemes all year round. “It’s a good start, Delhi government is incentivising good behavior. We had to start somewhere…the budget, however, doesn’t have any difficult solutions, such as congestion pricing,” said Madhav Pai, India director for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. As per WRI’s estimates, annual CO2 emissions (about 37.91 million MT in 2014) can reduce by 20.98 lakh MT due to interventions in the budget.

“Our estimates are based on the total number of say coalfired tandoors in the city and how much emissions would reduce if say all of them converted to gas tandoors,” added Pai. WRI experts also clarified that pollution concentrations vary based on meteorology and other factors and hence the reduction of PM 2.5, NO2 and other pollutants estimated by Delhi government may not be absolute.

Sisodia took pride in announcing the rolling out of 1,000 electric buses by next March under this plan but experts pointed out that Delhi was yet to procure conventional DTC buses that it had promised. “Delhi should have at least 10,000 buses but has less than 6,000. Going by the experience of other cities, cost of ebuses can come down to at least the level of high-end conventional buses if a proper procurement policy is followed. Bus numbers and bus operational reforms must happen together,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment. Air quality and policy experts welcomed both the incentives and the effort to scrutinise the pollution problem by developing an air pollution forecast model in consultation with , conduct a real-time source apportionment study and develop a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory by joining the C-40 climate leadership group.

“It’s a bold step. The fact that they want to do source apportionment study and a GHG inventory shows that they have a larger plan. The mobility related interventions seem promising and so are their efforts to tackle pollution in a sourcewise format by moving from say coal tandoors to electric ones,” said Santosh Harish, associate director (Research), at The Energy Policy Institute (University of Chicago). The budget has also rehashed some old ideas like net metering and generationbased incentives (GBI) of Rs 2 for solar roof-top projects.

“There is only a year left for the earmarked period for generation-based incentives. The government has not done enough to promote the policy or solar power. A strong promotional push is required from their side urgently. In 2017, their renewable purchase obligation (RPOs make it compulsory for all large consumers of energy to ensure that a certain percentage of that energy mix is from renewable sources) performance was only 5.5% as reported by Greenpeace earlier.

Given the continued poor performance in this regard, buying 1,000 MW of green/solar power is a much required step…Solar panels over cycling tracks is a novel thought as is agri-solar,” said Pujarini Sen, climate campaigner at .

The budget, however, doesn’t mention a total allocation for the 26-point plan or how many will benefit under these schemes. Meanwhile, the budget estimates for 2018-19 are 19.45% higher than the revised estimates of Rs 44,370 crore for 2017-18 and 10.42% higher than the budget estimates of Rs 48,000 crore. Education gets 26% of the total budget, followed by health at 13% and transport at 10%.

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