The IMPRI Center for Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainable Development (CECCSD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a panel discussion on ‘The Environment and Union Budget 2023-24’ on 4th February 2023 under the IMPRI 3rd Annual Series of Thematic Deliberations and Analysis of Union Budget 2023-24. The discussion was organized under the #WebPolicyTalk series The State of the Environment- #PlanetTalks. The session was chaired by Mr Ashish Kothari, Founder-Member at Kalpavriksh, Pune and the moderator for the session was Dr Simi Mehta, CEO & Editorial Director, IMPRI.
The discussion had an esteemed panel of eminent professors and scholars consisting of Mr Soumya Dutta, Co-Convener at the South Asian People’s Action on Climate Crisis (SAPACC); Dr Madhu Verma, Senior Economic Adviser at IORA Ecological Solutions, New Delhi; Mr Debadityo Sinha, Lead, Climate and Ecosystems at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, New Delhi; Prof Shyamala Mani, Sr. Advisor, WASH and Waste Management, CEH, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI); and Mr Himanshu Shekhar, Senior Editor (Political and Current Affairs), New Delhi Television Limited (NDTV India).
The session was inaugurated by Ms Aanchal Karnani, a researcher at IMPRI by welcoming and giving a brief introduction to the chair and panellists of the discussion. Dr Simi Mehta started the discussion by briefly mentioning the seven priority areas of the Union Budget for building a sustainable future through green growth. Mr Ashish Kothari then thanked the IMPRI team and panellists for putting together and participating in the discussion on such a pertinent topic. The discussion was carried further by Ms Aanchal Karnani and Ms Tripta Behera, a researcher at IMPRI, by giving a brief presentation.
The presentation was themed on the green growth factor of Union Budget 2023-24 covering the Government’s plan to boost Green Growth and key allocations to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. Most schemes have seen a relative increase from the previous year’s budget estimates, and there are certain new schemes being implemented this year like Pradhan Mantri Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment, and Amelioration of Mother Earth, Bhartiya Prakritik Kheti Bio-Input Resource Centres, Mangrove Initiative for Shoreline Habitats & Tangible Incomes (MISHTI) and Amrit Dharohar.
Mr Ashish Kothari, after thanking the team for the presentation, gave a few opening remarks on green growth. He raised a few questions for the discussion, such as what is contained in these budgetary allocations, how deep the transformations are, and what would be the ecological and social impacts of all the transmission systems. He also questioned whether the budgetary allocations for marine exports and the blue revolution mission are for conservation or for commercializing marine and coastal spaces. He concluded his speech by questioning the panellists if there was enough budget to address climate change and air pollution.
Critical Analysis of Budget from an Environmental Perspective
Moving on to the panel discussion, Mr Kothari asked the panellists to reflect on their significant budget observations. Mr Soumya Dutta, commencing the discussion, talked about the financial allocations to several ministries. He highlighted his concern about India’s International Climate Pledge, which calls on the country to achieve net zero emissions by 2070, given the current boom in the coal and oil industries. He contends that for India to achieve net zero by 2070, this sector must be reduced immediately. Additionally, he discussed his encounters with diverse groups and how the effects on individuals living in coastal and arid regions have been growing.
He also criticized the absence of information regarding the deaths of vendors from heat waves, as well as the numerous illnesses and financial losses brought on by this climate change in the budget. He mentioned at the end of his speech that the government’s priorities aren’t reflected in the budget’s increased funding due to a rise in Goods and Service Tax (GST) revenues. The discussion was taken forward by Dr Madhu Verma, who discussed the indirect, direct, and cancelling consequences that can result from two opposing activities being carried out at the same time, such as natural resource preservation and highway development, which can have a detrimental effect on the resources. She suggested that these factors be considered when distributing funds so that they don’t cancel one another out.
She also discussed the ecosystem’s decarbonization, new programs for digitizing the entire agricultural sector, and digital public infrastructure. She continued by saying that there aren’t a lot of initiatives for the wetlands, mangroves, forests, and agriculture. Dr Verma asserted that in addition to budgetary allocations, we should begin green accounting at the end of the financial year to quantify the effects of all interventions made during the year on ecosystems and the economy, which can serve as a powerful guide for the future. She summarised the importance of the duality check that is required in our nation at the conclusion of the annual year and stated that green accounting is crucial for achieving a green economy.
Mr Debadityo Sinha shared his insights about the new schemes being introduced like the Amrit Dharohar and the MISHTI scheme. Along with the budget structure, he discussed how the revised budget column provides information on how the previous project budget allocations were used. According to him, the budget for this year has undergone various changes, including the merging of Project Tiger and Project Elephant and the transfer of several duties to the Secretariat. He also shed some light on how other programs like Project Tiger and the creation of wildlife habitats used too little of the funds from the previous year. He also inquired as to how funds would be tracked following the government’s consolidation of several initiatives under the Secretariat.
He emphasized in his speech’s conclusion that the grants given by the federal government to the states are also underutilized and that we should consider both the budget from the previous year and the amount actually used because it reveals the government’s priorities in reorganizing the programs. The next speaker, Prof Shyamala Mani, began her remarks by discussing the budget’s allocation for waste management and the fact that Bio Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is being considered this year. She was quite pleased with the funds granted for the Govardhan project and the GST-paid biogas that will promote waste management. She pointed out to the panel that, in comparison to Brazil, which uses 49.7% non-fossil fuels, our country uses only 26.7%.
While India uses only about 10% to 15% of its fuel, Brazil uses close to 34% of its bioresources. She went on to say that machine hole cleaning should replace hand scavenging and manhole cleaning in smaller cities which is a social justice and sanitation concern. Prof. Mani claims that the money allotted for this purpose—Rs 10,000 crores for roughly 4000 Indian cities—is quite small because it includes the cost of buying all of these pieces of equipment. She discussed manual sex scavenger training in her final remarks, as well as the problem of air pollution. She also appeared dissatisfied since the budget talked nothing about or did nothing to address the extremely critical issue of climate change and health.
Mr Himanshu Shekhar then spoke about the 2020 budget and how the implementations had been delayed due to the lockdown that had preceded it. Additionally, he discussed the crippling effects of the lockdown on the national economy and how numerous state policies had been severely impacted, raising serious doubts about the state’s ability to even meet its own sustainable development targets. He expressed his dismay that, despite the fact that India experienced a number of natural disasters during the COVID period due to climate change, the term “climate change” was not even mentioned in this year’s budget. Mr Shekhar then discussed his on-the-ground report on electric vehicles that he did in 2020 stating that the number of electric vehicles sold in India in 2020 was 1,39,000; however, it has increased to approximately 8,00,000 for this financial year, a 507% increase in sales, reducing our reliance on crude oil imports.
The three demands made by the society of electric car makers in their pre-budget brief to FM were then further explored by Mr Himanshu. One of them, the exemption of customs duty on the import of capital goods and machinery necessary for manufacturing lithium-ion cells for batteries used in electric vehicles, was something she was able to accomplish. Being the most expensive component of an electric car, it will have a big impact on how much they cost, which will attract more individuals to this industry. In order to make it simple for people who drive electric vehicles to get charged electric batteries wherever they go, the manufacturers of electric vehicles also wanted a battery swapping policy, but building that infrastructure will take a lot of time. He then concluded by talking about various other concessions and schemes being introduced in the union budget.
The Way Forward
Following an engaging and fruitful discussion, Mr Kothari thanked the panellists for their important remarks and opened the floor for questions. Participants gave some interesting insights, reflections, and comments and raised quite relevant questions on a variety of themes such as the allocations for sustainable cities, components of a green credit program, mangrove plantations, oil palm plantations, electric vehicles etc. Moving towards the end of the panel discussion, The Chair, Mr Kothari asked the panellists to give their final remarks. Mr Himanshu highlighted that the inability of the Indian states to take decisive environmental action in 2020 and 2021 was caused by a decrease in income collection.
He wants the government to act aggressively in this situation. In her closing remarks, Prof. Shyamala Mani discussed how the woods and other greenery are balding due to encroachment and deregularization. She also discussed the links between microclimate, climate change, and non-communicable diseases. Mr Debadityo Sinha criticised the way the environment sector’s budget was presented. Since the environmental budget impacts everyone, he anticipates it will be more open and inclusive. In her discussion of the circular economy, Dr Madhu Verma referred to waste as a resource that might yield greater returns.
The union budget, according to Mr Soumya Dutta, was a failure because it did not place enough emphasis on biological diversity and climate change despite the fact that India already has more biological diversity than it needs. Since the national rural employment guarantee scheme was allegedly a congress scheme, Mr Ashish Kothari mentioned the budget cut. He expressed his gratitude to the panellists and the IMPRI team once more for the session. The IMPRI team then concluded the event by delivering a final vote of thanks to all the panellists for participating in the discussion and sharing their valuable insights.
Acknowledge: Aanchal Karnani, a research intern at IMPRI