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Budget 2023: Green growth or green wash?

Green growth means fostering economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies

February 02, 2023 / 08:51 AM IST
The green growth priority of the Union budget 2023 is in line with India’s goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070.

The green growth priority of the Union budget 2023 is in line with India’s goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070.

Unlike the previous years, the “risk of climate change” was absent in FM Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget speech on Wednesday, instead, she focused on green growth, “that will help in reducing the carbon intensity of the economy and provide for large-scale green job opportunities.”

The green growth priority of the Union budget 2023 is in line with India’s goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070 and generate 50 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy (RE) by 2030. However, not acknowledging the almost daily localised climate change-induced disasters unfolding across the country and worse not making adequate provisions for adaptation and climate resilience, gives the budget a veneer of greenwash rather than a blueprint of the future.

The ambitious National Green Hydrogen Mission now has a target of 5 MMT annual production of green hydrogen by 2030 and continues to be the mainstay of India’s alternative energy programme. Intriguingly, a closer look at the provision of Rs 35,000 crore ‘for priority capital investments towards energy transition and net-zero objectives, and energy security’ to the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (MoPNG) reveals that Rs 30,000 crore of this amount is earmarked for capital support to oil marketing companies (OMCs).

Inadequate Outlays

The other big announcement related to green growth includes facilitating one crore farmers to adopt natural farming and incentivising states and union territories to promote alternative fertilisers and balanced use of chemical fertilisers. Yet, the budget for the total agriculture and allied sector is reduced to Rs 1.44 lakh crore from Rs 1.52 lakh crore, an inexplicable reduction of 5 per cent. Notably, the budgets for PSS-MIS (price support and market intervention schemes) and PM-AASHA (for ensuring MSP) have been literally wiped out.

In other announcements, the controversial renewable energy project in Ladakh, the inter-state transmission system for evacuation and grid integration of 13 GW renewable energy will be constructed with an investment of Rs 20,700 crore including central support of  Rs 8,300 crore. The budget has allocated Rs 10,000 crore for biogas under the GOBARdhan scheme with the intent of promoting a circular economy.

It is still unclear how much money has been sanctioned for the new schemes that are part of the green growth push, including MISHTI, ‘Mangrove Initiative for Shoreline Habitats & Tangible Incomes’, and AMRIT DHAROHAR, a scheme that will be implemented over the next three years to encourage optimal use of wetlands, and enhance bio-diversity, carbon stock, eco-tourism opportunities and income generation for local communities.

Need More Clarity

While the announcement of replacing old polluting government vehicles is welcome, more clarity is required on how the Green Credit Programme incentivises environmentally sustainable and responsive actions by companies, individuals and local bodies, and helps mobilise additional resources for such activities. The announcement of a Viability Gap Funding (VGF) scheme for battery energy storage projects and the stated intent of coming out with a framework for the pumped hydro project is positive for the RE energy sector, however, the fleshing out of the details is awaited and timely implementation of these measures will be crucial.

That said, the unkindest cut is the reduction of funds for MGNREGA to Rs 60,000 crore from the already paltry Rs 68,000 crore marking a step backwards in the country’s efforts to build climate resilience with adaptation initiatives. MGNREGA not only provides livelihood security to the poor and marginalised, 65 percent of the allocated budget goes into natural resources management, water management, drought proofing, and building community resilience through inclusion.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO)'s recent report on jobs in nature-based solutions found that of about 75 million NBS jobs worldwide, about 80 percent are in India's MGNREGA. Civil society activists estimate that MGNREGA needs at least Rs 2.72 lakh crore to cater to the needs of the people at the grassroots. Such low allocation will effectively mean that around 10 crore active job card-holding families have provision to work on an average of 20 days this year as against their entitlement of 100 days.

Green growth means fostering economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies. A budget which boasts of reducing more than 39,000 compliances and decriminalising more than 3,400 legal provisions for ease of doing business, cannot augur well for green growth, sustainable development and climate change action.

Shailendra Yashwant is a senior advisor to Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA). Twitter: @shaibaba. Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.

Shailendra Yashwant is a senior advisor to Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA). Twitter: @shaibaba. Views are personal.