Construction projects create significant noise and air pollution. The Budgetary allocations towards increased cement-concrete construction in cities and eco-fragile zones do not have corresponding budgetary provisions for reduction of pollution even though India loses 7 lakh crore in GDP due to pollution every year. Image: Bhushan Koyande/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
t the UNFCC CoP26 in November 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched ‘Mission Life’ with the mantra ‘Lifestyle for Environment’. “The Mission intends to nudge individuals to undertake simple acts in their daily lives that can contribute significantly to climate change when embraced across the world,” says the website of the government think tank Niti Aayog.
In the Union Budget for 2023-24, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman waxed eloquent on the do-it-yourself mantra. “The PM (prime minister) has given a vision for a lifestyle for the environment,” she said while introducing the ‘Green Growth’ section of her Budget speech. “India is moving forward firmly for the panchamrit—the net zero-carbon emission by 2070. This Budget builds on our focus on green growth.”
The provisions of Sitharaman’s ‘Green Growth’ are largely focussed on transition to clean energy and transport, waste-to-energy plants, and wetlands. The Budget provides Rs35,000 crore towards energy transition. It also focuses on reducing customs import-duties on lithium-ion batteries to encourage electric vehicles.
However, the Budget does not mention India’s continued and increasing dependence on coal or provide any allocation for better power-grid efficiency (since India has the highest grid-loss, more than double the world average). It is also silent on protecting forests which have been marked for coal mining or the need to decrease coal usage to attain net-zero.
Sitharaman also failed to mention sustainability in construction through mitigation of air and noise pollution during the construction phase, though the budgetary allocation towards the mass-housing scheme, the PM Awaas Yojana, has been increased by 66 percent to over Rs79,000 crore.
Again, even as Rs15,000 crore has been allocated for the welfare and development of infrastructure for scheduled tribes and other vulnerable populations, there is no thought given to the fact that many of the pristine forests in which tribals live have been earmarked for mining and cement-concrete-heavy projects like ports, power plants, roads and railways.
The Shompen and Great Nicobarese Tribes live on the fragile island of the Great Nicobar on which a Rs75,000-crore development project has been recently approved. Sitharaman’s Budget speech makes no mention of the adverse effects of this massive new infrastructure building on the tribal population. Neither does it tell us how the effects of deforestation will affect our international climate commitments.
Sitharaman held forth on how the G20 presidency has given India “a unique opportunity to strengthen India’s role” and emphasised “a people-centric agenda to face global challenges”. However, residents of Mumbai, Delhi and other overdeveloped cities continue to face the escalating health effects of ever-increasing air, water and noise pollution, G20 Presidency notwithstanding.
While air pollution in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, has escalated alarmingly, overtaking that of Delhi due to several factors besides energy and transport, no budgetary allocation towards mitigating other sources such as garbage-burning, construction and road dust has been made. In 2019, the Lancet Report highlighted that India led the world in air pollution-related deaths and lost Rs7 lakh crore in GDP due to air pollution.
Finally, Sitharaman’s Budget 2023-24 acknowledges the importance of young people in the model of ‘sustainable growth’. Young people in India, as elsewhere in the world, fear climate change as the number one emergency they will face. “There is immense eco-anxiety, depression and pessimism with regard to the future, and that is affecting the kind of decisions I make, especially around whether or not to have children,” says Radhika Jhaveri, 36, who is setting up her own zero-waste enterprise.
Will this Budget help ordinary people, especially our youth, address the increasing burden of climate change through adequate actionable tools to address this greatest emergency of our world?