Friday, March 06, 2015

Union budget "fails to inspire" farmers, climate victims, Ganga rejuvenation, Himalayas

By Our Representative
Senior environmentalist Himanshu Thakkar, in a new analysis, has taken strong exception to the Narendra Modi government bringing down allocation for the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is down 15% to Rs 1681.6 crores in 2015-16, compared with the amount budgeted for the current fiscal year.
Thakkar, who is with the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), has said the drastic cut has happened despite finance minister Arun Jaitley saying in his budget speech: “Environmental degradation hurts the poor more than others.”
Things have gone to such an extent, according to Thakkar, that during an interaction with senior officials of the Central Pollution Control Board, one of the officers told Leo Saldanha, a top environmental expert, that “the budget for the entire CPCB was equal to the cost of a Delhi Metro pillar: Rs. 50 crores.”
Saldanha has been quoted as saying, “ He wasn’t exactly right. Perhaps it’s the cost of two Metro pillars. But we get the point.”
Thakkar has further said, the allocation for Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation has been drastically pushed down to Rs 4,232.43 crore, comprising of Rs 3,607 crore planned and Rs 625 crore non-plan budget. This is against Rs 13,237 crore planned and Rs 600 crore non-planned budget for 2014-15, a total reduction of Rs 9630 crore.
Comments the environmentalist, “Part of this reduction is supposed to be taken care of by the implementation of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations for greater devolution to states, but it is not clear how it can substitute the schemes like the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme or the National Projects Scheme that were granting funds to specific projects.”
Further pointing out that the farmers, too, have got a raw deal in budget, Thakkar said, the finance minister reiterated the NDA government's “commitment to farmers” and yet “the budget does not have a lot to show that commitment. The Agriculture Ministry’s budget has been reduced by 14.34% compared to the revised estimates. Further, the allocation for the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries is reduced by Rs 683 crore.”
As for the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, a “new programme” of the Modi government under Ministry of Agriculture, aimed at ensuring access to water to every farm (har khet ko pani), the environmentalist says, it has been allocated Rs 5,300 crore, including allocation for watershed programme and Rs 1,800 crore for the micro irrigation.
“As against that, the allocation for Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana has seen a huge cut from Rs 9,954 crore Budget allocation in 2014-15 to Rs 4,500 crore in 2015-16”, he adds.
Coming to the plan to “rejuvenate Ganga”, the environmentalist believes, “We have yet to see any credible action on this front. The budget allocates Rs 2,100 crore to Namami Gange (Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission) for 2015-16, slightly up from Rs 2037 crore allocated in the 2014-15 budget.”
But he comments, “The trouble is the government has no road map for rejuvenating Ganga, except some business as usual urban and industrial effluent control proposals.”
In fact, Thakkar says, “Such proposals have been going on for 30 years without any impact and the new proposals are likely to meet the same fate since they signify no break from the past. The money for this scheme is coming from clean energy cess, but it is not clear if this is the best use of that money. The clean energy cess fund should not be used for such business as usual projects, but for some significantly people-centered efforts that help those who suffer the impacts of climate change.”
“It is clear that the budget 2015-16 is not inspiring confidence that any action keeping the long term interests of farmers, water resources, rivers, Himalayas, climate victims or environment is on the horizon”, he concludes.

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