The pollution control fee must be utilised to mitigate the worsening state of air pollution by introducing strict rules

People have been paying heavy prices for petroleum products in the name of pollution control and infrastructure development fees since fiscal year 2008-09. The Ministry of Forest and Environment has so far collected Rs 9.43 billion from the consumers of fossil fuels. As per the existing Financial Act, the government is allowed to levy directly from the source Rs 1.50 for every litre of petrol and diesel to be sold or distributed inside the country. Apart from this, the government has also imposed a levy of Rs 5 per litre of petrol and diesel in the guise of infrastructure development fee, mainly for the development of the proposed 1,200MW Budhigandaki Reservoir Hydropower Project. The proposed Budhigandaki Hydel Project is said to have collected more than Rs 50 billion, which is being used to compensate for land acquisition.

The state-owned Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) procures petrol at Rs 69 per litre from Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and sells it to the consumers at Rs 130 per litre (as per yesterday's revised rate), which is almost double the base price. Despite collecting such a huge amount of money from the consumers, the government and its concerned agencies have not spent it for the control of air pollution in the major urban centres, where a large number of vehicles running on fossil fuels create air pollution.

While submitting its 58th annual report for fiscal 2019-20 to the President last Friday, the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) had suggested that the government spend the collected fee only for the purpose for which it was raised from the public.

Air pollution is one of the most worrisome problems in the country, especially in the Kathmandu Valley and other urban centres. It is the fundamental right of citizens to live in a clean and healthy environment as guaranteed by the constitution.

Air pollution causes respiratory problems and other ailments especially to children, the elderly and others with underlying health conditions. The government has already issued the Kathmandu Valley Air Quality Management Action Plan, 2020 to ensure the right of citizens to live in a clean and healthy environment.

But the government has failed to utilise the fund effectively.

If the fee collected from the levy on the fossil fuels is properly utilised as per the action plan, the air quality in the Kathmandu Valley and other cities can be improved as per the standard set by the World Health Organisation and the government. The National Ambient Air Quality Standard of Nepal has set the standard for particulate matter with aerodynamic size less than 10 micrometres (PM10) and PM2.5.

The unmanaged construction of physical structures has been contributing the highest to PM2.5 concentration in the air at 53 per cent, followed by vehicle emission at 30 per cent and brick kilns by nine per cent. The huge amount of fees collected from the public must be utilised to mitigate the worsening condition of air pollution by introducing strict rules for the construction firms, vehicle users and brick kilns. If the government cannot properly use the fund for the well-being of the general public, it should immediately stop collecting the fee that has put a huge financial burden on the people.

Don't cheat buyers

The authorities have sealed different stores in Kathmandu involved in relabeling goods whose shelf life has expired and selling them. They raided Agad Nepal Venture at Balaju following a tip-off that it was relabeling foodstuffs that were no longer fit for consumption. The business firm was found relabeling cookies, chocolates, soybean and biscuits, among others. Relabelling machines and chemicals used in the process have been seized from the stores.

This, however, is not the first time that the authorities have raided business houses for tampering with the expiry dates.

There must be a racket involved in the highly lucrative business of tampering with the expiry dates of goods to sell to unsuspecting consumers. The fluid political situation in the country and lax laws provide a great stimulus to unscrupulous people to engage in dishonest activities. What are the consumer protection forums doing when stores in the very heart of the capital are awash with foodstuffs and other goods whose shelf life is already over? Such fraudulent activities must be nipped in the bud if they are not to flourish. This means slapping not only heavy fines on the culprits but also prison terms.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 26 2021, of The Himalayan Times.