In the red

The Union Budget fails to make any provisions for protecting the environment.

Published: Friday 31 March 2000

When Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha said he would be presenting a harsh budget, very few thought it would be harsh on the environment. Today apart from the fiscal deficit, the biggest crisis facing India is the crisis on the environmental front. This budget has even shed the pretense of greening the Indian economy or setting sustainable limits for its growth. To top it all, when it is becoming a well-known fact that air pollution is rising dramatically in all Indian cities, the finance minister's sops to 10 hp diesel engines will probably see Indian cities teeming with three wheelers and generator sets further fouling urban air. Has the finance minister forgotten that even he has to breathe.

This first budget of the millennium had, therefore, provided Yashwant Sinha with an opportunity to introduce green taxes in India. But he definitely missed the bus. Not only is the budget a tale of missed opportunities, it is also at best an accountants' budget, where tax structures have been tinkered with for no real practical gain. Rather than taking the bull by the horn the budget has left the nation on the horns of a dilemma.

Green taxes are definitely the need of the hour in India. After the Supreme Court ordered the advancing of the deadline for meeting Euro i and Euro ii norms by the automobile industry it became clear that industry could be pushed to clean up their act. But is it right to expect the judiciary to push industry every time? You need market-based instruments to encourage industry to improve their technology fast. In other words they should see a business opportunity in going in for clean technology. Then they would not have to think only in terms of cng or diesel, but could even think in terms of battery operated vehicles and fuel cells. This was definitely an opportunity for the finance ministry to take charge. But they did not. If the finance minister was concerned about the health of the citizens, he would have been very harsh on both the polluting industry and the automobile lobby.

On the other hand, all he has done is present a lacklustre budget with nothing to talk about. Except for four dismissive lines on promises of more funds for afforestation, ecotourism programmes and improvement of coastal mangroves, Yashwant Sinha has given nothing in terms of hard fiscal decisions to push for sustainable growth.

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