Centre for Science and Environment’s reaction to the Union Budget 2018-19 | Centre for Science and Environment

Centre for Science and Environment’s reaction to the Union Budget 2018-19

A very important Budget, with clear intent. 

Recognises India’s acute agricultural crisis for the first time.

New Delhi, February 1, 2018: “This is a very important Budget because of three things: One, it recognizes the crippling agrarian crisis that grips India today. Two, it provides a very substantial security net for health, in the form of the health insurance scheme. And three, it gives poor tribals and forest dwellers a win-win option by supporting development of the bamboo sector,” said Sunita Narain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), commenting on the Union Budget of 2018, presented here today by India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley.

Firm acknowledgement of a crisis in the farm sector
The very fact that the government has woken up to actually acknowledge India’s agrarian crisis and do something about it, is an important beginning. Says Narain: “This essentially finds reflection in the analysis of Indian agriculture done by the Economic Survey 2018, which says Indian agriculture is at extremely high risk because of climate change. Productivity is bound to be impacted severely. This is really a crisis which is beyond one budget, but what is significant is that the government now recognizes the fact that this crisis needs to be resolved.”

Narain points out that Indian farmers today are facing three key risks – one, climate change and its impacts. Two, policies to import foodgrains at a time of food surplus, which hits their markets adversely. Three, severe indebtedness because of lack of public investment. 

Besides crop farming, India’s livestock economy is also under serious threat. “Livestock ownership is much more equitable in India than the ownership of land,” says Narain. Livestock forms the most valuable resource for the majority of India’s small and marginal farmers; it is their key to survival in difficult times. “Demonitising this livestock economy will destroy and impoverish the poorest,” adds Narain. 

The Budget’s announcement of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund and the Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund has to be acknowledged as a welcome move. There is a clear intent here to support this sector. However, to succeed, it will be important for the government to acknowledge and protect the entire value chain of all livestock. The ongoing reign of terror – the bans, the lynchings – cannot be allowed to come in the way of this initiative.

Healthcare access to all
Health is a major cause of indebtedness – in fact, this is another issue linked to farmers and the state they are in. Narain calls the proposed national health insurance scheme a “very major step forward”. She cautions, however, that effective delivery of the scheme would be the only measure of its success.

Narain also points out that putting in place such schemes are essentially curative steps – what India desperately needs today is preventive action as well. The country is witnessing a massive surge in incidence of non-communicable diseases (see our latest reports on it in Body Burden: State of India’s Health, www.cseindia.org), largely triggered by a whole range of environmental factors from air pollution and toxins in the environment to junk food. Over 61 per cent of all deaths in India are due to NCDs. The Budget does nothing to address this concern.

Bamboo gets its due place in the sun
CSE has always been a strong proponent of using bamboo for building livelihood security, especially for the tribal poor – in the light of this, the government’s proposal to restructure the National Bamboo Mission and promote the bamboo sector in a holistic manner is a positive step. Says Richard Mahapatra, managing editor of Down To Earth, an environment-development fortnightly CSE helps publish: “The Budget’s initiative on bamboo is another game changer. Bamboo has already been declared a grass. Now it can become something that tribals can grow and trade in. It also has climate benefits. Revival of the Mission is also a welcome step, since it was becoming non-functional.”

Does the Budget address concerns of pollution?
The issue of air pollution – which has steadily acquired the status of a national emergency -- has been tackled rather briefly through a “special scheme” to manage crop residues. The scheme offers to help the governments of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-NCR by subsidising the machinery for management of crop residues. Says Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director and the head of its Right to Clean Air campaign: “The scheme is welcome and one which is desperately needed. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has already endorsed the report of the sub-committee set up by the Prime Minister’s Office on this issue. However, the scheme has to be detailed out and implemented quickly – the machines must come before next winter, the season when stubble burning is usually at its peak. The clock is ticking.” 

Roychowdhury goes on to add: “The Budget does not seem to recognize the urban air pollution challenge as an issue of national importance. Air pollution is not a problem that afflicts only the Delhi-NCR region and its adjoining states – every major city in India is now burdened with it.” CSE analysts say that two key sectors that need immediate intervention in the form of enhanced infusion of funds – mobility and clean fuels – have been ignored.  

The Ujjwala conundrum
Air pollution resulting from biomass burning for cooking is a huge contributor to the disease burden of millions of Indian women, especially in rural and semi-urban sectors. In the light of this, it is imperative that poor households must be given access to clean and affordable energy for cooking. In the words of Narain, “this is India’s biggest energy crisis”.  

Mr Jaitley has announced an expansion of the Ujjwala scheme to benefit 80 million poor families, who will be given free cooking gas connections. But CSE analysts point out that in many cases, people have not refilled their empty gas cylinders – simply because they cannot afford to. The scheme’s overall implementation, hence, needs careful scrutiny and monitoring.

For speaking to experts on these issues, please contact Souparno Banerjee of The CSE Media Resource Centre at 9910864339 / souparno@cseindia.org.



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