Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia delivered the Prof. A. Abraham Centenary Celebration Lecture at the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI)

Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia has stressed the need for affordable sections of the urban population to shoulder the burden of subsiding water and energy for the poor, instead of passing the responsibility on to the government.

Delivering the Prof. A. Abraham Centenary Celebration Lecture organised by the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI) here on Monday, he said only 40 per cent of the operation and maintenance costs of urban water supply schemes were covered by the current usage charges. Pointing out that the cost of sewage treatment was not factored into the usage charges, he said, “To make it financially viable, it will be necessary to create an environment where people in cities who have access to better facilities are willing to pay to cover these costs”.

By applying the ‘polluter pays’ principle to the whole of the urban population, it would be possible to insulate the poor from user charges, Dr. Ahluwalia said. “There is no reason to subsidise people who use water to clean their dogs or wash cars. The affordable sections should pay more to cover the costs of operating and maintaining water systems.”

Later, talking to reporters, Dr. Ahluwalia mooted a cross-subsidised system to ensure cheap energy for the lower income groups. “The burden of subsidy that we give to those who cannot afford it should be put onto those who can, so that the budget does not have to bear it.”

Under-pricing energy

He said the under-pricing of conventional energy sources such as diesel and LPG had triggered the demand to subsidise renewable energy. “This expansion of subsidies is not feasible. We need to find ways of encouraging renewable energy without a net increase in subsidies.”

Sustainability

In his lecture, Dr. Ahluwalia stressed the need to mainstream sustainability into the development agenda of the country. “Programmes for sustainable development should not be viewed as add-ons. We must rethink our existing programmes and identify ways for development to take place while taking care of the environment.” The 12 Plan, he said, had included sustainability as a critical dimension to ensure faster, more inclusive growth.

He called for proactive approach balancing economic growth and protection of environment. He said biodiversity conservation had become crucial especially at a time when climate change was threatening to affect food supply.

India, he said, had the lowest level of urbanisation.

“Fifty per cent of the 380 million people who live in urban areas lack basic urban services. With the urban population slated to touch 600 million by 2030, it will be a humungous task to ensure sustainability.”

Answering questions from the audience, Dr.Ahluwalia called for better collaboration between the scientific establishment and the corporate world to build on indigenous capabilities and find commercial applications for science. He stressed the need to identify problem-specific projects for funding.

Vice chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board K.M. Chandrasekhar, Director, JNTBGRI P.G. Latha and former director P. Pushpangadan were present.

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