Professor, Institute for Social and Economic Change Bengaluru
Expectations were high from the Union Budget about giving a big push to decarbonisation and net-zero economy as per India’s COP26 commitments. The Finance Minister made important announcements regarding sustainable development, including productivity enhancement, energy transition and climate action, as well as financing investments with a long-term outlook of 25 years. These programmes aim to boost solar energy production, promote clean electricity through electric vehicles (EVs), as well as investment through sovereign green bond. The proposal for linking rivers is in direct contradiction to the principles and practices that are part of sustainable development.
One of the most important programmes announced is to combat climate change over the long-term with a substantial infusion of Rs 19,500 crore towards the production of solar power. Under the Production Linked Incentive scheme (PLI), the government plans to encourage the production of 280,000 megawatts solar energy by 2030. If India achieves its targets, it will produce half the energy required from renewable energy by 2030, which is 500,000 megawatts. There will also be less dependence upon fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas.
Further, the government is trying to address climate change by energy transition. The lack of charging infrastructure is one of the biggest obstacles to promoting clean energy via electric vehicles. The battery swapping policy is a paradigm shift that will promote faster adoption of electric vehicles in both the public and private transport sectors in the country. Although it will have a profound effect, the constant search for alternative energy sources such as hydrogen fuel production and sustainable energy is still more futuristic. Unless fossil fuel-based vehicles are stopped, efforts to transition to EVs won’t take long.
The greatest challenge is financing the fight against climate change. To address this challenge, the government is using economic instruments such sovereign green bonds to finance climate change. It will finance green infrastructure in public sector.
The green bonds’ success depends on the level and timing of green infrastructure projects, their effective allocation, and the level of investment flow. The Budget proposes that 5-7 per cent of biomass pellets be co-fired to reduce stubble combustion and other emissions from polluting sectors like thermal power. This may help to reduce the estimated 38,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. There are practical issues that need to be addressed.
The Budget aims at promoting sustainable development in agriculture through the promotion and use of natural, chemical-free agricultural practices throughout the country. An experimental 5-km corridor has been selected on the banks the Ganga’s banks as a first step. This clearly shows the economic cost of environmental harm already done, especially the pollution of Ganga. Different governments spent approximately
The Clean Ganga Mission has raised Rs 20,000 crore but the river is still very polluted. It will not be possible to achieve chemical-free natural agriculture by using polluted water for irrigation along the Ganga’s 5-km stretch. This is unless the river’s polluting industries are allowed to recycle the effluents. There is not enough scientific information to know how Vedic farming and zero-budget national agriculture will be implemented on the 4 lakh hectares of land in eight states. Also, how they differ from organic and natural farming.
The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is the nodal agency responsible for the implementation of the National Action Plan on Climate Change. This plan aims to improve energy and resource efficiency, as well as clean technology. The ministry receives only Rs 3,030 crore from the government. Budgetary support for some of the earlier flagship programmes like the National Mission for Green India and the National Afforestation Programmes, National Clean Air Programmes, Project Tiger and Project Elephant is lower than for other programs such as Project Tiger and Project Elephant. There are no new programmes that will increase forest cover or grant incentives to agroforestry to reduce climatic conditions.
The ambitious policy of interlinking rivers is an ecologically destructive and economically disastrous project that goes against sustainable development practices. The Ken-Betwa Project will cost the exchequer Rs 4.4605 crore and compromise invaluable ecological benefits. The proposed detailed project report (DPR) for the interlinking of five rivers — Narmada, Godavari, Krishna, Pennar and Cauvery — may end up in more inter-state water disputes and conflicts among the upper and lower riparian states apart from ecological and economic loss. Karnataka has already voiced its disapproval at the DPR, and inequitable allocations of its share. Research shows that mega irrigation projects have used available water resources in suboptimal levels and in a less efficient manner. Sourcing water from distant river basins is costly, more environmentally damaging, and impinges upon the water needs of other states. The reasoning behind linking rivers with surplus water with those with deficit water is not supported by scientific reasoning. It is still difficult to determine and ensure the right amount of water is stored and distributed between the riparian states during different seasons. Many rivers are not managed using scientific inputs from river basin planning with competing water needs. Diverse water policies place more emphasis on the demand-side management than the supply-side management, such as interlinking rivers. Mega projects should be developed in accordance with the scientific basis, ecological consideration, financial feasibility, and the spirit sustainable development policies.
The Budget’s overall goal is to create a low carbon economy through energy efficiency and transition policy. However, changing production and consumption patterns is crucial for the success of such policies. India is clearly moving through the most difficult times. There are trade-offs between environment and economy, but futuristic policies could help bridge those trade-offs. The Budget gives the impression that the capitalists are getting more perks than the average citizen. This lopsided economic policy will likely result in high income inequality, digital gap and an ecological catastrophe.