Bud­get dis­ap­points on eco­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity

In­dia should make a strate­gic shift to a pat­tern of growth that is not only re­source-fru­gal but pro­gres­sively uses more re­new­able en­ergy

Business Standard - - OPINION - SHYAM SARAN

The Bud­get 2017-18 has been com­mended as a “do-no-harm” ef­fort by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley, al­low­ing the econ­omy to re­cover from the avoid­able trauma of an ill-con­ceived de­mon­eti­sa­tion. But in the realm of eco­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity, so crit­i­cal to In­dia’s fu­ture prospects, the Bud­get fails to re­flect the ur­gency and scale of ef­fort re­quired. There is no word on how the gov­ern­ment pro­poses to de­liver on the far­reach­ing com­mit­ments it has made un­der the var­i­ous sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals (SDGs). While the en­hanced out­lays on the Na­tional So­lar Mis­sion are wel­come, there is no over­all plan on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the na­tion­ally de­ter­mined con­tri­bu­tions the coun­try has signed on un­der the Paris cli­mate agree­ment. The na­tional Bud­get should have in­cluded eco­log­i­cal bench­marks as an in­te­gral com­po­nent, en­sur­ing that var­i­ous spend­ing heads and out­lays do not run counter to the over­all ob­jec­tive of eco­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity.

It had been re­ported just a week be­fore the Bud­get an­nounce­ment the gov­ern­ment pro­posed to add three new na­tional mis­sions to the eight al­ready in­cluded in the Na­tional Ac­tion Plan on Cli­mate Change (NAPCC). These re­late to im­pacts of cli­mate change on pub­lic health, on coastal zones and an ex­clu­sive mis­sion on waste-to-en­ergy. How­ever, there is not even a men­tion of this im­por­tant ini­tia­tive in the Bud­get, let alone any out­lay to ini­ti­ate their im­ple­men­ta­tion.

One hopes that the coal cess of ~400 per tonne stands. It pro­vides sub­stan­tial funds for the Clean En­ergy Fund, which may be used for the pro­mo­tion of clean en­ergy projects. A cou­ple of years ago, the pur­pose of the Fund was di­luted by re­nam­ing it as the Clean En­ergy and En­vi­ron­ment Fund and in­cluded a host of en­vi­ron­ment-re­lated projects such as clean­ing the Ganga within its man­date. Not all the cess on coal col­lected is al­lo­cated to the Fund and spend­ing still lags far be­hind the avail­abil­ity of money.

At the end of the cur­rent fi­nan­cial year, the amount ac­cu­mu­lated in the Fund is ~54,336 crore. There is an ur­gent need to have trans­par­ent rules on the use of the coal cess, ex­plain­ing why the en­tire amount col­lected should not go to the Fund and to de­vise a wellthough­t out plan to use these re­sources for projects that pro­mote clean and re­new­able en­ergy.

Agri­cul­ture and ir­ri­ga­tion are ar­eas of fo­cus in the cur­rent Bud­get and this is un­der­stand­able. The com­mit­ment to dou­bling of farmer in­comes within a five-year pe­riod is com­mend­able. The mea­sures the gov­ern­ment pro­poses to de­liver on these com­mit­ments, how­ever, run counter to the goal of eco­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity. The agri­cul­tural sec­tor in In­dia is suf­fer­ing from the di­min­ish­ing re­turns from the In­ten­sive Agri­cul­ture De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme (IADP), which de­liv­ered the first phase of the green rev­o­lu­tion which be­gan in the 1960s. This strat­egy in­volved the use of hy­brid seeds, wa­ter-, chem­i­cal fer­tiliser- and pes­ti­cidein­ten­sive tech­niques to de­liver higher crop yields. The IADP strat­egy has run out of steam and the con­tin­u­ance of the strat­egy is lead­ing to the loss of fer­til­ity of land, the in­creas­ing tox­i­c­ity in the food chain and the pre­cip­i­tous de­cline in the wa­ter ta­ble across the coun­try. In­creas­ing fer­tiliser sub­si­dies will only com­pound the prob­lem. Higher out­lays for ir­ri­ga­tion, with­out tak­ing into ac­count the acute wa­ter stress that has al­ready built up in large parts of the coun­try, will yield sub-op­ti­mal re­sults. One is not even tak­ing into ac­count the ad­verse health ef­fects on farm­ers and their fam­i­lies re­sult­ing from con­stant ex­po­sure to toxic chem­i­cals whether in the form of chem­i­cal fer­tilis­ers or pes­ti­cides. If the gov­ern­ment were se­ri­ous about im­ple­ment­ing its new cli­mate change mis­sion on health, then a re­view of the ex­ist­ing agri­cul­ture strat­egy is in­escapable.

The NAPCC, adopted in June 2008, had eight in­ter-re­lated na­tional mis­sions cov­er­ing re­new­able en­ergy, agri­cul­ture, wa­ter, forests, en­hanc­ing en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and ur­ban­i­sa­tion among oth­ers. Of these, only the so­lar mis­sion has recorded sig­nif­i­cant progress; the oth­ers have mostly fallen off the radar screen. This is a pity be­cause eco­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity can only be ad­vanced when there is par­al­lel progress in each of these do­mains. Ev­ery an­nual Bud­get should have a spe­cial sec­tion de­voted to the NAPCC, with out­lays to con­trib­ute to meet­ings tar­gets in each mis­sion. The cur­rent Bud­get talks of an out­come ori­ented ap­proach; this is most sorely needed in meet­ing the chal­lenge of eco­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity.

With Don­ald Trump be­com­ing Pres­i­dent of the US, there is a real pos­si­bil­ity that the in­ter­na­tional con­sen­sus, which made pos­si­ble the Paris cli­mate agree­ment and the adop­tion of SDGs, will be­gin to un­ravel. Mr Trump has al­ready given no­tice that re­stric­tions on fos­sil fuel in­dus­try in the US will be ei­ther re­laxed or elim­i­nated al­to­gether. There are in­di­ca­tions that the US may even re­pu­di­ate the Paris Agree­ment al­to­gether. Other ma­jor economies may well fol­low suit in or­der to main­tain their com­pet­i­tive­ness vis-a-vis the US. What should be In­dia’s re­sponse in case such a sce­nario be­gins to un­fold?

The dis­course in In­dia usu­ally posits a trade-off be­tween en­ergy se­cu­rity on the one hand and meet­ing the chal­lenge of cli­mate change on the other. In fact, both for rea­sons of pro­mot­ing en­ergy se­cu­rity and tack­ling cli­mate change, In­dia should make a strate­gic shift from its cur­rent re­liance on fos­sil fu­els to a pat­tern of growth which is not only en­ergy- and re­source-fru­gal but pro­gres­sively uses more re­new­able sources of en­ergy such as so­lar en­ergy and cleaner sources of en­ergy such as nu­clear en­ergy. Con­sider the fact that In­dia cur­rently im­ports over 70 per cent of its oil and this will go up to 90 per cent by 2030. This is no en­ergy se­cu­rity. The Bud­get fails to ac­knowl­edge such a chal­lenge.

It is ev­i­dent that pur­suit of eco­nomic as­pi­ra­tions de­fined by the West is not vi­able for a coun­try like In­dia. This re­quires a change in po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive, in so­cial at­ti­tudes, fos­ter­ing a con­cept of af­flu­ence and ma­te­rial well-be­ing aligned with eco­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity. This used to be a defin­ing fea­ture of In­dia’s civil­i­sa­tional ethos. A gov­ern­ment com­mit­ted to re­viv­ing In­dia’s an­cient val­ues would do well to put this re­spect for na­ture and eco­log­i­cal in­tegrity at the cen­tre of its en­deav­ours.


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