Activists foresee lean allocation for environment schemes in budget 2020

The government, however, will try to attract more investments given the current economic scenario

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In the wake of the upcoming budget, many environmentalists feel that it would be meaningless to expect the government to allocate more funds to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFC).

The government, however, will try to attract more investments given the current economic scenario.

Given the MoEFC itself diluting its laws, the confidence on the government is lost that it will bring any significant allocation to the environment, said K.S. Kavi Kumar, Professor, Madras School of Economics.

Prof. Kumar also added that the current government programmes may be good for being in news but they lose out on being ‘environment’ programs.

“The government may do window dressing by allocating some more funds to the existing programs such as Swachh Bharat, Ganga rejuvenation which are labelled as ‘environment’ programs but are not in the truest sense of environment. By cleaning your front yard you cannot claim that you have the cleanest environment” he said.

Pointing out that the allocation for conventional environment-related issues is seeing a decline in recent years, Prof. Kumar said, “Take Ganga rejuvenation program, for instance. It is kept under Ministry of Jal Shakti. In order to give a push to the program, the money from environment ministry was diverted to the program in the previous budget. It’s like readjustment rather than direct allocation.”

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Doubtful that the government will introduce any new schemes, Prof. Kumar said, even if they do any allocation, they must clarify how much money for what specific purpose is allocated.

When asked about budget expectations for climate change, considering India is doing its bit of contribution by pledging to bring down green gas emission intensity between 33 to 35 percentage by 2030, Prof. Kumar said India’s behaviour in this issue will be decided by the global positioning.

“Across the world, we are witnessing the right-wings ascension to power. They are largely nationalistic in their interest. When you say nationalistic, they try to increase their economy by allowing more and more industrial projects. So India too will follow the suit. Unless other countries cooperate in activities like pollution reduction, India cannot achieve in this regard” he said.

The reason for India slowing down its climate change mitigation efforts is largely because the leaders felt that it will not lead them to the benefits they envisage, rued Prof. Kumar.

“At least in the previous regime, between 2014 and 2019, India did some contribution in the form of solar energy, etc. But, it is natural for the leaders to expect returns for the work they do. If there is no result, the steam will be lost and that’s why India has slowed down in its efforts.”

Resonating with Prof. Kumar, Nityanand Jayaraman, researcher and environmentalist, claim that the government does not believe in climate change.

“If the government believed in climate change, it wouldn’t auction 15 coal mines last year. The coal minister wouldn’t boast that they are going to achieve one billion ton of coal to be mined in next few years,” argues Jayaraman.

Terming the fund allocation for environment an eye-wash, he said, “If we look at how the allocations are made in other sectors, we can figure out how interested the government is in allocating funds for environmental protection. If most of the funds are allocated for industrial development, the money allocated for the environment, in consequence, will become insufficient.”

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However, it must be checked whether there is any mind change of the government in addressing the question of development, he added.

Jayaraman, who along with his group recently came up with an initiative called ‘Let Chennai Breathe’  to spread awareness about the importance of clean air, also feels that development is not about investments. “It’s about quality of life,” he said.

Stressing that the ministry has become more of corporate structure, Jayaraman said, even if the government allows more funds to the environment ministry, they will end up doing more wrongs. And even if the government doesn’t have money, the ministry will anyhow bend the laws.

It is interesting to note that in January 2019, the Centre came up with National Clean Air Program (NCAP) for which the government allocated funds under pollution control. But it looks like the program has not worked out well, since cities like Chennai which are in the tail end of the country, too witnessed heavy air pollution.

If at all one hopes that the government may allocate enough funds to the environment ministry, then he or she should focus on how much allocation is being done for the enforcement of the law, said Jayaraman.

“What kind of institutions the government is planning to establish to enforce the law? How much fund is being allocated for capacity building of the existing institutions? How much allocation is being made to fill up the vacancies in pollution control boards, National Green Tribunals and in the High Courts?” are the key questions that need to be asked, emphasises Jayaraman.

So what about forests?

Though the funds have been allocated in the previous budgets, for forest and tribal development, the diverting of funds for other development activities has become a common feature says C.R. Bijoy, a forest rights activist.

Pointing out that in 2010, during Common Wealth Games, crores of rupees from the allocations made to forest and tribal welfare schemes were siphoned to build stadiums Bijoy says, “Even though states like Andhra, Telengana, Karnataka enacted laws to stop diverting amount from SC/ST schemes, all the money is in the hands of bureaucrats and they are unwilling to spend it.”

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One should check whether the budget allows ‘untied funds’ -the funds which are given on no condition – which can be used according to the needs of a Panchayat, added Bijoy.

Bringing out the irony of the government’s construct of tribal development and ‘tribal area development’, Bijoy said, most of our budgets are ‘preset’. There is no tribal development in the budget, only ‘tribal area development’, where the government constructs a highway inside the tribal area as if the tribals are driving their trucks in that road.

In 1996, the Gram Sabhas were given a power that without their consent a government cannot carry any development projects in their villages. But the bureaucrats want to implement their power and so they do not follow the rules under PESA (Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996).

“As of now, out of 10 states, only 6 states have notified rules. If the rules are implemented, the funds allocated in the budget will go to real beneficiaries, i.e., tribals. But the budget never speaks about these laws and that is the tragedy” Bijoy laments.