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The Finance Minister of India, Arun Jaitely, presented the last full India Union Budget 2018 of Modi-led NDA government at the Centre on 1 February 2018. Considering impending elections and prospects of facing elections in the next year (possibly earlier as per speculations), one thought that the India Union Budget 2018 would try to do justice to promises BJP made to people in the 2014 polls, particularly to the farmers, about the Ganga River as well as the other rivers of India. Narendra Modi has returned from Davos, where he said that climate change is one of the biggest challenges of the future. So, one expected India Union Budget 2018 would have something on the environment and climate change. Even the Indian Economic Survey 2017, which was put out on 29 January 2018 has been focused on the climate change impact on the farmers. Considering the fact that rural distress got reflected in the Gujarat poll results in December 2017, one expected a credible as well as a substantially better deal for villages and agriculture. Unfortunately, we are disappointed in all these aspects.

The Budget speech was full of politically-correct statements but it lacked the substance to inspire confidence. Track record of this government has been so poor that such empty words aren’t going to convince anyone. Let’s look at some of the key aspects.

EASE OF LEAVING???

It is well known that this government is focused on improving the EASE-of-doing business but it has done little by way for the ease-of-living for farmers, common rural, or urban people. So the Finance Minister, in the very beginning of the Budget speech, said: ‘Now, our Government has taken Ease-of-Doing business further by stress on “Ease of Leaving” for common men of this country especially for those belonging to poor and middle class of society.’ Providentially, LIVING was misspelt as LEAVING, or is the government interested in helping ‘common men of this country’ LEAVE (the world) more easily?

MORE GROUNDWATER USE RATHER THAN REGULATION AND AUGMENTATION?

It is well-known that groundwater is India’s lifeline though the govt hasn’t found it useful to accept the reality. It is equally well-known that groundwater use is unsustainable at most of the locations, including Indus as well as Ganga plains. What we need is credible measures to recognize, protect, and rejuvenate groundwater recharge zones, augment recharge, and most importantly, regulate groundwater use. This govt has done NOTHING effective in these directions. Instead, now, the India Union Budget 2018 has a new scheme to increase groundwater use (see Para 44 of FM speech): “Ground water irrigation scheme under the Prime Minister Krishi Sinchai Yojna—Har Khet ko Pani—will be taken up in 96 deprived irrigation districts, where less than 30 per cent of land holdings gets assured irrigation, presently. I have allocated Rs. 2,600 crore for this purpose.’

This norm of districts, where less than 30 per cent of land holdings get assured irrigation presently, can be misleading. For instance, in Maharashtra, a state with by far the highest number of large dams in India, has less than 20 per cent of the cropped land under irrigation. So, most districts of this state may come under this norm, even though they may already be over-exploiting groundwater. Now, this scheme can be used to further increase groundwater exploitation.

ECONOMIC SURVEY USES MISLEADING IRRIGATION PARAMETER

Whereas the India Union Budget 2018 doesn’t have anything substantial about irrigation, it is noteworthy that Economic Survey 2017, released on 29 January 2018 makes use of a rather strange ratio of Net Irrigated Area over gross cropped area to compare states, see Figure 6 on Page 109 in Vol II, Chap 6. This is a misleading and wrong parameter to use. So, even through Haryana is better than Uttar Pradesh in terms of irrigation in all seasons, it seems, going by this parameter, to be performing worse than Uttar Pradesh, since UP possibly has less area under double or multiple cropping. This is because, for Haryana, since there is more area under multiple cropping, denominator becomes high, bringing down the ratio. One has never seen use of this parameter, and its mystery why this has been used.

INDIA UNION BUDGET 2018 ON THE GANGA AND OTHER RIVERS

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known to have given a high priority to Ganga and had declared after winning the 2014 Parliament Elections that Mother Ganga has called me. Unfortunately, the state of the river Ganga has only worsened under the government even more than the earlier government since its business priority even for Ganga. So, high investment but river destroying schemes such as Inter Linking of Rivers (Ken Betwa, their top priority scheme is in Ganga basin), Big Dams (World’s tallest ever dam Pancheshwar is in the Ganga basin), Water Ways (National Waterway 1 is in the Ganga basin and they are doing massive and destructive dredging, river ports and so on, without environment or social impact assessment or public consultation process), Big Sewage Treatment Plants and sew lines, River Front Development, to name some, are their priorities.

The India Union Budget 2018 had to mention the river Ganga, therefore, it makes a run-of-the-mill statement in Para 66: ‘Cleaning Ganga is a work of national importance, and it’s our firm commitment. Members will be happy to learn this work has gathered speed. A total of 187 projects have been sanctioned under Namami Gange Program for Infrastructure Development, river surface cleaning, rural sanitation and other interventions at a cost of Rs. 16,713 crore. Forty seven projects have been completed and the remaining projects are at various stages of execution. All 4465 Ganga Grams – villages on bank of river – have been declared open-defecation free.’
So, 4 years into the govt, they are still talking about a ‘firm commitment,’ while state of river has only gone worse, majorly due to their actions and inactions. There is no mention of the other rivers at all.

Farmers getting 50 per cent return on cost The Finance Minister said in Para 13: ‘In our party’s manifesto, it has been stated that farmers should realize at least 50 percent more than cost of produce, in other words, one and a half times the cost of production. Govt has been sensitive to these resolutions, and it has declared Minimum Support Price (MSP) for majority of rabi crops, at least at one and a half times the cost involved. Now, we have decided to implement this resolution as a principle for rest of the crops. I am pleased to announce that as per predetermined principle, Govt has decided to keep MSP for all unannounced crops of kharif, at least at one and half times of their production cost. I am confident this historic decision will prove an important step towards doubling income of farmers.’

The claim that this promise of at least 50 per cent return on cost for farmers has been achieved for Rabi crops, is wrong. Even the Economic Survey, released 3 days back, says that the real incomes of farmers has NOT increased in the past 4 years, and thus contradicts FM’s claim. Second, 4 years into government, the government has no clue how they’re going to achieve the objective for kharif or summer crop.

FM says in Para 11: ‘Honorable Prime Minister gave a clarion call to double farmers’ income by 2022 when India celebrates its 75th year of independence.’ While Economic Survey has confirmed that the real income of farmers hasn’t increased in the past 4 years, and this India Union Budget 2018, last one of this government, has no credible steps to achieve that. So, this government is going to leave farmers worse off than what they were, leave aside the question of doubling their income, and if they go to voters saying give us a chance, we will do it by 2022, that won’t have much credibility either.

IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON FARMERS’ INCOME

In fact, the Economic Survey brings more bad news for farmers. It says: ‘A second key finding is that these impacts are significantly more adverse in un-irrigated areas (and hence rain-fed crops) compared to irrigated areas (and hence cereals). Applying these estimates to projected long term weather patterns implies that climate change could reduce annual agricultural incomes in range of 15 to 18 per cent on an average and up to 20 to 25 per cent for un-irrigated areas.’ (Ch. 6, Vol. 1, p. 82). Now look at India Union Budget 2018 in this context, and we find that it has NOTHING to offer to farmers for the losses, and yet repeats the hollow promise of doubling income! In fact, the government even refuses to acknowledge that the farmers are climate change victims, nor the demand that farmers be compensated for losses.

India Union Budget 2018 on Environment

The India Union Budget 2018 has nothing to offer for environment (even its promise of a scheme for incentivizing use of machines in Punjab, Haryana, UP, and the NCR in Para 35: ‘A special Scheme will be implemented to support efforts of governments of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and NCT of Delhi to address air pollution and to subsidize machinery required for in situ management of crop residue” is without substance), sustainable development, democratic governance, equity, or participatory or transparent decision-making.

On the whole, the Union Budget 2018 ends up being lackluster, neither populous, nor helping the Ease-of-Doing anything particular. Not even the Ease of LEAVING? You decide that.

First published on SANDRP’s website
Image credit: DNA India

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Himanshu Thakkar

About Himanshu Thakkar

Author at greenubuntu.com. Himanshu Thakkar, an engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. He is currently the coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (http://sandrp.wordpress.com/, http://sandrp.in/) and the editor of "Dams, Rivers & People" magazine. He has been associated with the water and environment sector for more than two and a half decades and in the past has been associated with the work of World Commission on Dams, Narmada Bachao Andolan and Centre for Science and Environment.
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