Questioning The Budget Does Not Make Me Anti-National

Published: February 03, 2018 12:44 IST
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In many ways, the Economic Surveys of the NDA government have tended to be more honest documents than Budget speeches, especially with the sleight-of-hand of budgetary and economic figures.

Take agriculture and the impact of climate change. The Economic Survey, released at the end of January, had a stark message: "Climate change can dent farm incomes by as much as 25 per cent in rain-fed areas over the medium term." The implication was clear. A vast majority of India's people are employed in agriculture. It is important for our food security, our economy and our social stability. As such, fighting climate change and investing in climate change mitigation efforts is a national imperative. It has to be more than a set of slogans and alliterations, whether in English or Hindi. And in real terms it boils down to a single, five-letter word: water.

It was expected - or logical to expect - that the Budget would respond to these concerns. What did it do? It devoted some attention to how farmers access water. The core irrigation scheme for this is the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY), for which Rs 9,429 crore has been allotted. This is a 27.56 per cent increase when compared to the Revised Estimates of Budget 2017-18. That sounds impressive, I have to admit. But it also needs to be said that serious flaws and drawbacks of the Yojana have been ignored.

A prominent component of this scheme is called "Har Khet ko Paani" - water for every field. This component has been allocated 2,600 crores to develop groundwater irrigation in 96 districts. Now, read the fine print: 2,290 crores is meant to pay the interest of the Long Term Irrigation Fund. So that leaves a measly 310 crore for "Har Khet ko Paani" to develop irrigation infrastructure in 96 districts. That is a little over 3 crores per district! The research fees paid to interns who worked on the Economic Survey probably worked out to more.

That's not all. When launching PMKSY in 2015, the government had said that it would allocate 50,000 crores to the scheme over five years - or 10,000 crores a year. However, the Actual Estimate of 2016-17 - revealed in the 2018-19 budget documents - states that 5,133 crores was set aside in 2016-17. That was the first full year of the scheme. Now, for 2018-19, the third full year of the scheme - and the fourth year overall - (the scheme was inaugurated in the middle of 2015-16), the allocation has gone up to 9,429 crores.

In not one of the four years has the target of 10,000 crores been reached. Not one. As a direct consequence of such dereliction, there has been even greater depletion of underground water. This has led to low productivity and smaller incomes for farmers even though the 2017 monsoon was above average. Who is responsible? Taking a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his promise of doubling farmers income in five years, Dr. Manmohan Singh said it is another election jumla with the  government having  no concrete plan to achieve the target. Manmohan Singh further said it was a hollow assurance as "To reach the kind of numbers they promised, India's agricultural growth needs to be in double digits estimated to be around 12%."

Climate change has an impact on agriculture but is, of course, a cross-cutting phenomenon. The Economic Survey warns of it. The World Economic Forum, in its Environmental Performance Index, rated India at 177 out of 180 countries and served another warning. The Budget remains impassive. Allocation for the Climate Change Action Plan or the National Adaptation Fund, which is under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, is unchanged.

It's not just money that's a problem. A big role in India's climate action plan is played by the coal cess. This cess, the Clean Energy Cess as it is called, contributes to the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF).

According to a CAG report made public in December 2017, "Rs 53,967.23 crore was collected as Clean Energy Cess during 2010-11 to 2016-17. Against this, only Rs 15,483.21 crore had been transferred to the NCEF...resulting in short transfer of cess to the earmarked fund by Rs 38,484.02." In other words, only a little over a third of the cess collection has been transferred to NCEF. Of what has been transferred, only half - just short of 7,000 crores - has actually been spent on projects.

Where is the rest of the money? Where is two-thirds of the coal cess? What has been done about the government's capacity to spend even what has been made available to NCEF?

Shh ... Don't ask such questions. It's anti-national.

(Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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