Even in These Crucial Times, Financial Allocations for the Environment Remain an Afterthought

The allocations for various environment protection schemes have either remained stagnant or declined from previous years in Budget 2018.

People cross the road in Delhi, India, November 7, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Saumya Khandelwal

Amid rapidly growing concerns over climate change, a significant increase in allocations for environment protection was certainly needed. However, if we look at the allocations for various environment protection schemes in the latest Union Budget, the overall conclusion is one of acute disappointment.

The allocation for the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. at Rs 2,675 crore, remains unchanged compared to either the budget estimate or the revised estimate for the previous year. This means that even inflation impact has not been provided for and there has been a decline in real terms for the allocation of this crucial ministry.

In fact, when one looks at various allocations within this ministry, one realises that even the allocations for the most crucial schemes or plans for climate change have stagnated. The allocation for the Climate Change Action Plan was a lowly Rs 40 crore last year as well as this year. Once again, no provision has been made for inflation. What is more, last year the revised estimate had later been reduced to Rs 33 crore – a significant decline from the actual expenditure in 2015-16.

In times of climate change, it is highly important to plan and prepare for adaptation. The Budget estimate for the National Adaptation Fund last year was Rs 110 crore and has remained the same this year as well. Here as well the actual expenditure in 2015-16 was higher.

In the context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and checking climate change, the next important ministry is that of new and renewable energy, whose budget has increased by just 8% as compared to the revised estimate for the previous year. In real terms, there is hardly any increase worth mentioning.

What is even more worrying is that the unspent coal cess (which was collected for providing clean energy) has been arbitrarily used to compensate states as Goods and Services Tax compensation fund for loss of revenue. Hence, the fund availability for the National Clean Energy Fund has become uncertain at a time when this should be increased significantly.

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Off-grid decentralised renewable power is highly important for meeting the energy needs of remote villages in a clean, eco-friendly way. Thus, it is quite disturbing to know that the allocation for this in the Budget has been reduced to Rs 1,037 crore as compared to the revised estimate for the previous year of Rs 1,121 crore.

The decrease in the gross budgetary support for this ministry and more generally for renewable energy indicates that there is a tendency for relying more on the private sector in this important area.

Another crucial ministry is that of drinking water and sanitation. Here, the budget estimate for this year at Rs 22,357 crore is lower than the revised estimate last year of Rs 24,011 crore. This is surprising keeping in view the big challenges of sanitation campaigns and the anticipated drinking water shortages in several parts of the country.

In fact, the allocation for combined rural and urban Swachh Bharat Mission this year, at Rs 17,843, crore is lower than the previous year’s revised estimate of Rs 19,248 crore. Similarly, the allocation for this year for the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, which stands at Rs 7,000 crore, is lower than the revised estimate for the previous year of Rs 7,050 crore.

Another relevant ministry is the agriculture ministry and we need to see to what extent the stated support for eco-friendly farming is reflected in the budget allocations. The finance minister, as well as the agriculture minister, have emphasised the need to increase support for organic farming.

An important scheme for this as well as for the related tasks of conserving seeds and farm biodiversity is called Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana. Its original allocation last year was Rs 350 crore, which was later drastically cut to Rs 250 crore (RE). This year, there is a return to Rs 360 crore which does not even provide for inflationary impact if we compare with the original allocation of the previous year. If we go back a year further, then we find that in 2016-17, the original allocation was cut by 60% in the revised estimate for this important programme.

Environmental protection, then, seems to be far from a priority in the Union Budget for this year.

Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been associated with several social movements and campaigns.     

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