Amid Water & Pollution Crises, How ‘Green’ is Modi Govt’s Budget?
India is among the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index, ranking 177 among 180 countries. Image used for representation.
India is among the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index, ranking 177 among 180 countries. Image used for representation.(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

Amid Water & Pollution Crises, How ‘Green’ is Modi Govt’s Budget?

In a televised address describing the Union Budget tabled in Parliament on Friday, 5 July, Prime Minister Modi called it a "green budget" which focuses on the environment and pitches for green and clean energy and transportation needs.

The new government’s budget saw an increase in the allocation for Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change from last fiscal by 10.4 percent from Rs 2,675 crore in 2018-2019 to Rs 2,954.72 crore in 2019-2020. However, it falls short of the amount earmarked for the ministry in the interim budget presented in February earlier this year by Rs 157 crore.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s maiden budget was almost silent on climate change, air pollution and afforestation, and barely touched upon water scarcity except the announcement of Jal Jeevan Mission.

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‘Har Ghar Jal by 2024’

India is battling one of the worst water crises in independent history, with most states facing almost drought-like situations.

Sitharaman announced the Jal Jeevan Mission, that will be spearheaded by the Jal Shakti Ministry and aims to provide potable water to every rural household by 2024. The ministry has identified 1,592 over-exploited blocks in 256 districts of the country.

VR Raman, Head of Policy at Water Aid India, welcomed the Modi government’s proposal, but added that the budgetary allocation was not enough if the government aimed to achieve its target by 2024.

“The current year’s allocation is Rs 10,000 crore. This is almost double of Rs 5,500 crore allocated during last year’s estimates. However, the actual need for achieving this ‘Har Ghar Jal’ or piped water for all dream by 2024 dream will be much higher. The government has to ensure that it enhances the budgetary allocation for drinking water, over the next three-four years.”
VR Raman, Water Aid India

Lack of Proper Investment in NCAP

The budget highlights, released by Sitharaman after the presentation, lists ‘Pollution-free India’ as the third point in the list of vision for India. However, this prioritisation is not reflected in the budget itself, pointed out Centre for Policy Research’s Santosh Harish.

Harish, however, welcomed the allocation of Direct Benefit Transfers for LPG, and steps taken to promote electric vehicles will help mitigating pollution.

“The allocation of Direct Benefit Transfers of LPGs has increased to almost a double from 2018-2019 to 2019-2020. This probably reflects an increase in the number of households that has access to LPG – both for energy access and [to lessen] air pollution. Burning biomass for household purposes form single largest source of pollution exposure – accounting to about 30%. Any allocation to this is a welcome step.”
Santosh Harish, Centre for Policy Research

Harish explained that there was lack of substantial investment in regulatory bodies like National Green Tribunal. The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) found just a passing reference in the budget and reflected the government’s commitment to fight air pollution.

With the government allocating only Rs 460 crore to control pollution and not particularly to the NCAP, it only strengthens the concern that it is merely a vision document and places more onus on the cities to mitigate pollution that the central government, he added.

“Air pollution is by no means restricted to cities and is a regional problem. Centre should increase its expenditure and also coordinate with the states.” 
Santosh Harish, Centre for Policy Research

Govt’s EV Push

The finance minister proposed lowering of the GST on electric vehicles (EVs) from 12 to five percent. Also to make them affordable to consumers, the government will provide additional income tax deduction of Rs 1.5 lakh on the interest paid on the loans taken to purchase EVs, Sitharaman said.

“While the government’s commitment to renewable energy, energy transition and electric vehicle is to be appreciated, investigation of the budget document actually suggests there is no new allocation to renewable energy or scaling that up.  There is continued spending on green corridor that remains unchanged. There is also money allowed for realisation of wind and solar targets — which is also not starkly different from the previous years.”
Kanika Chawla, Council on Energy, Environment & Water

Sitharaman’s announcement comes close on the heels of Niti Aayog proposing to migrate to full electric vehicles for two-wheelers of engine capacity of up to 150 cc and three-wheelers by 2023 and 2025 respectively.

Other Environment Highlights

  • The fiscal's allocation of Rs 350 crore for Project Tiger, an initiative for conserving the wildcats, and Rs 30 crore for Project Elephant, which was launched to conserve jumbos across the country, remains unchanged for 2019-20.
  • The budget for National Coastal Mission, however saw a sharp decline of Rs 35 crore with the government allotting it Rs 95 crore for the current financial year compared to Rs 130 crore allotted to it in the last fiscal.
  • The budgetary allocation for statutory and regulatory bodies has also been reduced from Rs 166.42 crore last year to Rs 147 crore this year.
  • At Rs 100 crore, the 2019-20 allocation came down by Rs 14.4 crore for the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the central pollution watchdog.

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