NGT’s proposed Yamuna cess treats every citizen as a polluter. Fair, or Unfair?

Delhi along with two other states were supposed to pay for polluting the Yamuna by collecting from every household. But not even a single penny was collected as authorities are yet to initiate the collection process. We analyze why it might not make any difference.

The National Green Tribunal, last week strongly expressed its dissatisfaction over the cleaning of Yamuna, and directed the State governments of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi to furnish a performance guarantee of ₹10 crore each within a month.

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WHY? In 2015, holding every Delhi resident responsible for polluting the Yamuna, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had ordered every household to pay a certain amount each month as environment compensation (EC) ranging between Rs 100 and Rs 500. The directions had come after an NGT-appointed monitoring committee submitted an interim report, which included recommendations to be taken by respective authorities towards cleaning of the river.

A Bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel directed the States to deposit the amount with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to ensure compliance of orders.

In doing this, the NGT was perhaps following the long precedence established in our country, of making users pay for pretty much anything , their taxes be damned. So we have had fuel cesses, road taxes, toll taxes that are completely out of control now, not to mention the user fees at airports, which too threatened to go out of control till the airport regulator woke up to the loot. A cess for cleaning the  Yamuna made eminent sense with this history, with the usual zero commitment of time period, outcomes and accountability.  Just last month in fact, residents in Delhi raised protests against a surcharge in their power bills to pay off the pension dues of old DVB employees, when the firms were privatised. As always, even as the government and the buyers nitpick over whose liability it was to pay the pensions, the actual bill has conveniently been shifted, or sought to be shifted to users, already paying relatively high power rates.

The idea of holding every citizen responsible is also problematic.  As, like pollution, it is obvious it is actually the business sector, coupled with the apathy and negligence of government bodies, that have brought things to such a pass.  The Year 2018 end saw as many as 9 projects takeoff in the NCR under the aegis of Yamuna Action Plan-III (YAP). A total of 11 projects were taken up by National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) to conserve the river with the action plan primarily targeting three major drainage zones — Kondli, Rithala and Okhla. The projects, was reported to be carried out at a cost of Rs 1,656 crore, and will see the capacity of the three zones increase to around 950 million litres per day (MLD) with the Okhla sewage treatment plant (STP) set to become the country’s biggest. At present, Delhi generates 327 crore litres of sewage per day, but has a capacity to treat only 276 crore litres. While YAP-I was taken up between 1993 and 2003, YAP-II was extended in 2003 to cover Uttar Pradesh and Haryana along with Delhi.

So The NGT Rule to somehow clean the Yamuna river by additional 30 Crores will hardly make any dent as the money (pun intended) will end up in the sewer. Till the time Sewage treatment plants are not installed at the source of the problems (Industrial areas, Tanneries, Heavy industries like Auto assembly lines and others) the problem will persist no matter how much money makes it way to the Clean Yamuna Fund. The solution, albeit a practical one, cannot take place until and unless the companies install such filtering systems either forced by law or on its own.

While we hope you don’t end up paying an additional  cess, which in our opinion are way too many already, next month; it is safe to say the authorities must relook at the problem  with clear timelines. And a transparent method for residents, now that they are paying directly for the river too, to see just what is happening with their hard earned money. A strange suspicion coming to our minds is that perhaps these proposals to charge the residents for every issue they highlight is one way to stifle complaints.

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