A very important Budget, with clear intent. Now the government has to deliver

New Delhi, February 1, 2018: “This is a very important Budget because of three things: One, it recognizes the crippling agrarian crisis that grips India today. Two, it provides a very substantial security net for health, in the form of the health insurance scheme. And three, it gives poor tribals and forest dwellers a win-win option by supporting development of the bamboo sector,” said Sunita Narain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), commenting on the Union Budget of 2018, presented here today by India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley.

On healthcare
One of the key interventions the Union Budget proposes is in the field of health insurance. Finance minister Jaitley has announced a flagship national health insurance scheme which will cover 10 crore vulnerable families, with a coverage of Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary hospitalization. It must be acknowledged that this significant measure might make healthcare accessible to some of the poorest in the country – provided it reaches them. The experience with previous insurance schemes tells us that most such measures tend to end as damp squibs in the absence of effective implementation and monitoring.

Narain points out that putting in place such schemes are essentially curative steps – what India desperately needs today is preventive action as well. The country is witnessing a massive surge in incidence of non-communicable diseases (see our latest reports on it in Body Burden: State of India’s Health, www.cseindia.org), largely triggered by a whole range of environmental factors from air pollution and toxins in the environment to junk food. Over 61 per cent of all deaths in India are due to NCDs. The Budget does nothing to address this concern.

On air pollution
The issue of air pollution – which has steadily acquired the status of a national emergency -- has been tackled rather briefly through a “special scheme” to manage crop residues. The scheme offers to help the governments of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi-NCR by subsidising the machinery for management of crop residues. Says Narain: “The scheme is welcome. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) has already endorsed the report of the sub-committee set up by the Prime Minister’s Office on this issue. However, the scheme has to be implemented quickly – the machines must come before next winter, the season when stubble burning is usually at its peak. The clock is ticking.” 

Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director and the head of its Right to Clean Air campaign, adds: “The Budget does not seem to recognize the urban air pollution challenge as an issue of national importance. Air pollution is not a problem that afflicts just the Delhi-NCR region and its adjoining states – every major city in India is now burdened with it.” CSE analysts say that two key sectors that need immediate intervention in the form of enhanced infusion of funds – mobility and clean fuels – have been ignored.  

On agriculture and livestock
The Economic Survey 2018 has pointed out that agriculture in India is in a state of serious crisis. In a climate-risked world, there is worse that can be expected in the years to come – and the most severely affected would be the marginal and small farmers, who make up the bulk of the farming fraternity in India. For these farmers, their livestock – cows, buffaloes, goats, horses etc -- forms the most valuable resource; it is their key to survival in difficult times. The Budget’s announcement of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund and the Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund (with allocation of Rs 10,000 crore each) has to be acknowledged as a welcome move. Additionally, what is important is to acknowledge and protect the entire value chain (milk, meat, leather etc) of all livestock. It is important to ensure that the prevalent mood for protecting the cow does not come as a backlash for the small farmer.

On bamboo
CSE has always been a strong proponent of using bamboo for building livelihood security, especially for the tribal poor – in the light of this, the government’s proposal to restructure the National Bamboo Mission and promote the bamboo sector in a holistic manner is a positive step.

On energy access
Air pollution resulting from biomass burning for cooking is a huge contributor to the disease burden of millions of Indian women, especially in rural and semi-urban sectors. In the light of this, it is imperative that poor households must be given access to clean and affordable energy for cooking. Mr Jaitley has announced an expansion of the Ujjwala scheme to benefit 80 million poor families, who will be given free cooking gas connections. CSE analysts point out that while this is another welcome intervention, refilling of cooking gas cylinders has been found to be rather lax compared to the scale at which free connections are being given – the scheme’s overall implementation, hence, needs careful scrutiny and monitoring.

For speaking to experts on these issues, please contact Souparno Banerjee of The CSE Media Resource Centre at 9910864339 / souparno@cseindia.org.


From the FB Live
Two big takeaways – very impo budget. Recognises the deep and crippling agrarian crisis in India. Acknowledgement of that crisis is a very imp starting point. Link to the Eco survey – which says Indian agriculture at high risk because of climate change. Prodictviity will be impacted. Recognises that the crisis needs to be fixed. A crisis which is beyond one budget. 

Farmers are triple risked – climate and its impacts. Import of food at a time of food surplus. Indebtedness becoz of lack of public investment. Health insurance another thing that is linked to farmers and their state.

Security net for health has been provided. Health is a major cause of indebtedness. Delivery would be critical so that it benefits large number of people. Very major step ahead.

Env concerns benefitted or not. Special scheme for air pollution in NCR. Desperately needed scheme. We need the schme to be detailed out and up and running before next winter. Larger issue of env contamination – does the budget reflect that?

Livestock. Livestock ownership is much more equitable in India than ownership of land. Demonitising the livestock will destroy and impoverish the poorest. Government;s intent in ythis allocation is very important. Should not come under the terror under way so that legitimate businesses are affected.

Bamboo. Another game changer. Three big signals – agrarian crisis, healthcare, bamboo.

Bamboo has been declared a grass. Now it can become something that tribals can grow and trade in. Mission was becoming non functional. Revival is very welcome. It has climate benefits. A win-win option.

Thrust to organic agriculture. Modernising the agri sector.

Intent is clear. Intent is we need to move away from chemicalised farming. The How can now be addressed.

Airshed does not know boundaries. Rural air and urban air are all one. Ujjwala. Not good enough a targeted subsidy scheme. This is India’s biggest energy crisis. Price of oil will increase and subsidy will go up. We need to pay more to enable the poorest to avail of clean fuel