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Environmental Lens in Budget 2021

It is a known fact that the Government of India has not provided an adequate sum of money required to assess and battle the degree of air pollution, waste and water mismanagement, and multiple other environmental issues in India in the past years. However, it was believed that the Budget 2021 would be different since the nation has understood the vitality of a clean, hygienic, and healthy environment in the pandemic. Shockingly, the budget for tackling climate change was reduced by INR 10 crores in Budget 2021. On top of that the environment budget has been clubbed with other hygiene and health projects, such as providing clean water, etc. Given that India is still battling the coronavirus, it is understandable that not enough people are talking about the dismal effects this budget will cause to the country. However, it is imperative to understand how critical the Budget 2021 is for the environment and explain how disastrous its impacts will be if not paid more heed.

The National Hydrogen Energy Mission and Deep Sea Oven Mission (to conserve deep sea biodiversity) have been introduced recently. While these initiatives are great steps, urgent and looming issues of air pollution and climate change are being ignored year after year, both politically and financially, as evident in this Budget 2021 as well.

The health crisis that India is facing today is not limited to the coronavirus pandemic. Even when the country returns to normalcy post the pandemic, the climate change crisis is yet to be controlled since it is just as disastrous. 15 out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India, and the 470 crores allocated to the National Clean Air Programme are clearly not enough. The Clean Air Plan has been allocated Rs 460 crore but when given to 100 cities, that's only Rs 4 crore per city. The timeline for compliance of emission norms by power plants has also been extended.

Yes, some efforts were made to include provisions that may make an attempt to tackle certain environmental issues. The Supreme Court, for example, recently brought back the idea of installing smog towers in Delhi. While they are effective to a certain level, they are largely wasteful expenditure. The Vehicle scrapping policy was a great step in the direction of controlling vehicular emissions and ensuring the vehicles match up to Bharat Stage norms by removing old vehicles from the roads. However, it is yet to be seen how this policy will be implemented in a country like India where policies look better on paper than in real life.

However, it will be ignorant to say that no good steps have been taken. The National Afforestation Programme was allocated Rs 246 crore, an increase of 37% from the Rs 179 crore the previous year. This should hopefully boost green cover in India's rapidly declining green spaces due to urbanisation. There has been a lot of focus on clean fuels as well. The ‘second clean fuel revolution’ is possible only with taxation and pricing reforms in favour of cleaner fuels.

The urgency of the climate change situation in India needs to be met with both political and economic action, stricter enforcement of laws coupled with considerable budget allocations are the need of the hour. India needs to take inspiration from the Biden administration, bring together experts in the field, draft new policies, and allocate more money to the environment. Activists and citizens alike would like to see large sums of money being given in the budget to a matter that concerns all and has the potential to end lives if not handled well. Taking care of the environment is not something that will only be relevant in the long term anymore, it's going to start impacting us right now. Therefore, our budget needs to steer change in this field in direct proportion to the urgency of this matter. This matter is not something that can be benched for discussion. We need to act now and we need to act fast, or it may be too late to restore the destruction of what we now know as ‘Mother Earth’.


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