New Delhi: Acknowledging that air pollution is a major concern, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday, while presenting the Union Budget for 2020-21, allocated 4,400 crore to encourage states to formulate comprehensive plans for ensuring clean air.

“The government proposes to encourage such states that are formulating and implementing plans for ensuring cleaner air in cities above one million. Parameters for the incentives would be notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate change. Allocation for this purpose is 4,400 crore for 2020-21," said Sitharaman.

The minister also announced closure of old thermal plants violating emission norms. “For such power plants, we propose that utilities running them would be advised to close them, if their emission is above the pre-set norms. The land so vacated can be put to alternative use," she said detailing the government’s plan for environment and climate change.

The government, last year, had launched a five-year National Clean Air Action Plan to achieve 20-30% reduction in concentration of particulate matter 10 and 2.5 by 2024, with 2017 as the base year. The plan was to focus on 102 non-attainment cities with consistent poor air quality than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

“It is a big jump, in terms of financial support," said Anumita Rowchowdury, from Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), “but, we now need a clear template on how government plans to get all sectors to collaborate to achieve a real reduction in emissions and monitor implementation at various levels."

“Considering the high levels of pollution in our major cities, it is indeed a positive step. With this, at least we hope the monitoring of sources of pollution would improve across states. But, significant investment is needed for transition to clean fuel," said Chandra Bhushan, CEO, iForest, an independent environmental research body.

Also, reiterating India’s commitment to climate action, Sitharaman said a lot of work under the 2015 Paris Agreement would kick in from January 1, 2021, on the “best effort basis."

“India would execute all its climate action targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement under the normal budgetary provisions," she added, in line with India’s stand of urging developed countries to fulfill their financial commitments under global climate action.

India has consistently maintained that finance remains a major roadblock and that it has been fulfilling its targets by relying on domestic budgetary resources. "The two global initiatives of Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) and International Solar Alliance (ISA) would help India to enhance climate action, disaster resilience and address various sustainable goals," Sitharaman said.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, India has committed to reduce by 2030 the emission intensity of its GDP by 33-35% over 2005 levels. It has also pledged to generate 40% of India's power capacity from non-fossil fuel sources and create an additional 'carbon sink' of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

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