Why Union Budget 2022-23 is not good in environmental terms

By slashing allocation for environmental organisations, regulatory boards and introducing infrastructure development schemes, the Centre has sent a wrong message

By Gurinder Kaur
Published: Saturday 12 February 2022

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the Union Budget for 2022-23 on February 1, 2022. She repeatedly used some positive words like ‘clean energy’, ‘energy transition’, ‘clean environment’ and ‘climate action’ while presenting the budget. But the contents of the budget are contrary to the spirit she expressed through these words.

For starters, the Union budget of this year slashed the budgetary allocation for the statutory body Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM).

The CAQM works for the air quality management in Delhi and the National Capital Region (Delhi-NCR). Its allocation was cut to Rs 17 crore this time, from Rs 20 crore in 2021-22.

The deteriorating air quality of Delhi-NCR is confirmed every year by international bodies. This year too, the life expectancy of the people living in Delhi could be reduced to 9.5 years due to air pollution, according to a September 2021 study by the University of Chicago, United States.

The National Clean Air Programme was launched in January 2019 to provide financial assistance to the Pollution Control Boards, amounting Rs 2,217 crore for 42 cities with a population of over one million. No additional funds have been provided this year to address the issue.

Although Sitharaman used terms like ‘clean environment’ and ‘energy conversion’ in her budget presentation, she reduced the amount in the budget, instead of increasing it to control air pollution.

How can the environment be clean if the Union government does not pay for controlling air pollution in Delhi? Every year, during winter, when Delhi-NCR are exposed to smog, the Delhi and Union governments blame neighbouring states for the pollution to cover up their shortcomings.

The total allocation of five autonomous bodies under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) — GB Pant Himalayan Institute of Environment and Development, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Indian Institute of Forest Management, Indian Plywood Industry Research Institute and Training Institute and Wildlife Institute of India — is Rs 287.45 crore, which is less than last year’s budget by Rs 18.05 crore.

Budget allocation for the six statutory and regulatory bodies related to environment and wildlife — the Central Pollution Control Board, the Central Zoo Authority, the Animal Welfare Board, the National Biodiversity Authority, the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Commission for Air Quality Management — has been reduced by Rs six crore.

Reducing the budget allocation of environmental organisations and regulatory boards also neglects environmental protection measures.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the 26th Conference of the Parties (CoP26) in Glasgow to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in November 2021, gave five points to the United Nations to reduce carbon emissions in the country, which he named Panchamrit.

These five goals are:

  • Net zero carbon emissions by 2070
  • 500 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030
  • 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030
  • Reduction of one billion carbon emissions by 2021 to 2030
  • Total carbon emissions reduction by 45 per cent.

Looking at the 2022-23 budget, it seems impossible to meet the targets of reducing carbon emissions by 2030.

India had asked for $100 billion-1 trillion for the Climate Fund to help poor countries at CoP26. But in the present budget, only Rs 30 crore has been allocated for its Climate Action Plan, which is a very meagre amount for controlling any kind of natural calamity.

Although the government has increased the amount in the Union Budget for Tiger and Elephant conservation projects, an increase in the area under ‘open forests’ and a decrease under ‘dense forests’ will be dangerous for wildlife.

The budget of the National Coastal Mission has also been reduced from the budget of 2021-22. Under the National Coastal Mission, the MoEF&CC is responsible for the protection of coastal areas from natural disasters, ensuring livelihood of coastal communities including fisher folk, fauna and flora, to conserve the coastal stretches and to promote the sustainable development of these areas.

But the Union government has reduced the amount for maintenance of coastal areas in this year’s budget, leaving these areas more exposed to natural disasters. Coastal areas have already been hit hard by the Union government’s changes to the Coastal Regulation Zone rules in 2019.

Under the Gati Shakti project, Rs one lakh crore has been earmarked for the development of the country’s infrastructure and Rs 200 billion has been earmarked for the expansion of roads in 2022-23.

The Gati Shakti project aims to develop and expand roads, railways, airports, ports, mass transport, waterways and logistics infrastructure. Sitharaman said 400 energy efficient trains would be manufactured and 25,000 km of National Highways would be constructed in the next three years.

Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and the states in the Western Ghats are already paying a heavy price for the expansion of national highways.

According to Land Conflict Watch (a data research agency), the expansion of infrastructure is affecting 1.5 million hectares of land and 4.4 million people across the country. These infrastructure projects often cause severe damage to the environment.

The Union Government has announced an amount of Rs 1,400 crore in this budget for the project connecting the Ken and Betwa rivers. The government says it will irrigate 900,000 hectares of land, provide drinking water to 6.2 million people and generate 103 megawatts of electricity.

But according to environmentalists, it will cost a lot of money and damage the natural environment too. When rivers are connected to each other, a huge amount of river water will be absorbed by dry land.

In addition, a river or stream flows naturally in a certain direction. If an attempt is made to change it, after some time it returns to its natural course, which increases the incidence of floods.

Allocating funds in this year’s budget to connect the Ken and Betwa rivers could be an election issue for the government. But the project will be very dangerous for the environment.

To make the environment of the country clean, the Union government should formulate nature-friendly development plans. It must increase budgetary allocation to protect the people and the environment of the country from natural disasters.

Gurinder Kaur is Former Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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