A. Sridhar, 2008

Photo Credit: A. Sridhar, 2008

In previous Climatico blogs, it has been highlighted that the Government of India has placed sustainable economic development high on its priority list. Last week, the Government of India published its highly anticipated Interim Budget. Not surprisingly, development initiatives gained precedence in budget allocation.  In 2008, the Government had lots to say about bolstering India’s climate policies- with an Action Plan and high international involvement. Does the interim budget reflect these commitments- translating policy statements into implementation phase through budget allocation?

Notable points to note from the budget  on climate issues include:

  • The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Ministry of Power received slight increases in the interim budget estimates.
  • The Ministry of Environment and Forests was allocated the same budget from previous years at Rs. 150 billion (approx.3 billion USD) distributed between conservation and afforestation initiatives.
  • Allocation of Rs. 140 billion (approx. 2.8 billion USD) in infrastructure and rural development schemes- an increase  from previous years.   

              Various farming subsidies schemes were given focus.

               Integrated Water Management Programme was allocated Rs. 20210 million (approx.  404 million USD)

  • Ministry of Earth Sciences received funding for research on polar climates, meteorology, and climate change research center.
  • Environmental Equity and Safety

              In coordination with the 2009-2010 central plan, the interim budget highlights a desire to ensure legal rights to forest dwellers and subsequent infrastructure building for forest tribes to promote what PM Manmohan Singh referred to as ‘growth with equity.’

              The budget provides Rs. 73000 million (approx. 1460 million USD) to states in efforts to ensure safe drinking water to rural communities.

The publication of the Interim budget comes amidst what is likely to be a heated election season from now till May. With the possibility of change in India’s political landscape, we are taking the opportunity to highlight some policy areas worth looking into:

  • Invest more in transport infrastructure. In the past, more focus has been placed on development of roads and highways and the current Interim budget follows this trend without a more aggressive push towards efficient public transport plan for the nation. While public transport in most cities  is fairly good, there has to be a shift in perception away from private transport and towards public transport. Better networks that allow people to give up their cars.
  • National level of coordination of natural resources. Many resources fall under State supervision but lack unified coordination at the national level unless litigation is involved. Establishing national-level advisory bodies can assist in the management of such resources.
  • Public awareness on climate change needs to grow. Awareness is limited, initiatives at making Indians ‘go green’  have taken place but a public environmental awareness campaign like the ones we frequently see on domestic violence, education, gender and family planning will help scale up environmental initiatives and make people more aware.
  • Promote new methods in farming. Agriculture forms a big chunk of our economy and much of it still remains at the subsistence level. India needs to match new technologies with better infrastructure and resource saving methods (water conservation, organic farming for example). As this report points out, Indian agriculture needs to become sustainable.
  • Establish minimum standards for and incentivize green certification. For example, the Indian Green Building Council is a council representing diverse stakeholders (business, government) that offers green certification for construction. While the costs of certification are currently high right now, the Government should look towards incentivizing certification – not only in the construction sector but in other sectors too (from industrial to consumer goods – in order to bring down costs as well as raise the bar when it comes to green standards. In the past years, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency has had trouble informing and supporting its appliance labeling scheme to small enterprises.

Elections in India have usually played out on issues like food and security. While environmental policy and climate change may not resonate in the heart of the common Indian man who is concerned with other more pressing issues such as employment, access to food and development, it doesn’t mean that environmental issues don’t form the heart of political manifestos.  The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has called for climate change to be treated as a form of terrorism, a very important election issue and the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) promoted its Common Minimum Program  which dealt with issues that are directly affected by climate change. This includes commitments to bolster rural health and rural employment and strengthen India’s agriculture sector amidst environmental (ex. water availability/quality and desertification) and economic pressures.

(Climatico Analyst, Radhika Viswanathan, contributed to this post)

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