Managing air quality: Urban intergovernmental institutions appear to be logical choice

August 6, 2020 4:00 AM

A five-year plan (physical/fiscal gap) should be worked out for the entire UA. It should be based on environmental and energy audit as per the Model Municipal Law of 2003

The census towns should also be immediately upgraded as ULB status by their respective states.The census towns should also be immediately upgraded as ULB status by their respective states. (Representative image)

By KK Pandey

The municipal governance for ambient air quality (AAQ) has assumed special significance with the first-ever allocation of Rs 4,400 crore for FY21 by the Fifteenth National Finance Commission (NFC) to 50 urban agglomerations (UAs) as part of Rs 29,250 crore share of urban local bodies (ULBs). Water supply (WS), solid waste management (SWM) and roads that determine AAQ got further allocation for UAs and other ULBs for the same period.

Three important points deserve special attention of NFC, which is working out further details for the remaining period of its mandate: (i) the role and significance of municipal services in pollution caused by PM2.5 and PM10, (ii) institutional arrangements/governance, and (iii) mobilisation of funds at the city level.

First, adequacy of municipal services in terms of treatment of water, solid waste (household/municipal/electronic/end-of-use vehicles/hazardous /green leaves/construction and demolition waste, etc), roads, footpath, dividers/roundabout, greenery/plantation, maintenance of parks/lakes, etc, determine the levels of AAQ. It is estimated that 6.4% of GDP (largely in urban centres) is lost due to inadequacies in WS and SWM. The two are also important from the angle of resource efficiency/circular economy, where the output from one sector is used as input for another product. It is argued that 90-95% of solid waste can be processed for another input.

Second, the institutional arrangements and governance among UAs to protect air quality go beyond the administrative jurisdiction of cities. The 50 UAs have 264 ULBs and other census towns, villages, special townships (railways, industries, etc, with multiple institutional arrangements for municipal services). The National Capital Region (NCR), for example, involves administrative city (MCDs, NDMC, and Cantonment Board), physical city (Gurugram, Noida, etc) and the city region.

Third, the budgetary allocation to ULBs is not enough to meet the requisite actions. Requirements of funds (also indicating physical gap) are fairly high than NFC grant and kitty of municipal finance. HPEC report estimates investment requirements of Rs 31 lakh crore at 2010 prices in a 20 years’ perspective with 75%-plus share for WS, SWM and municipal roads.

Therefore, the urban intergovernmental institutions (centre, states and ULBs) appear to be the logical choice for the management of AAQ. The role of ministry of environment and forest/Central Pollution Control Board and their counterparts in the states is to supplement urban institutions with AQI and enable them to link NFC grants in the overall framework of NCAP (National Clean Air Programme) with a nodal agency role to largest ULB to manage AAQ in UA. The census towns should also be immediately upgraded as ULB status by their respective states.

At the same time, a five-year plan (physical/fiscal gap) should be worked out for entire UA. It should be based on environmental and energy audit as per the Model Municipal Law of 2003, which are yet to be applied. AAQ-related innovations such as C&D waste, participatory maintenance of parks, footpaths, etc, as applied in Ahmedabad, Indore, Delhi, Pune, and Namami Gange, etc, should be included. Certain cases, like the NCR, need specific arrangements.

Using NFC funds as seed capital, extra-budgetary resources from the community, corporate social responsibility funds and public-private partnerships need to be mobilised. The NFC grant also needs upward revision in proportion to the size of UA.

The author is Professor, Urban Management, Indian Institute of Public Administration. Views are personal

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