Simi Mehta, Amita Bhaduri, Anshula Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Manoswini Sarkar
Expressing his displeasure over the absence of the term ‘ecology’ from the Budget speech at a time when the world is combating the ill effects of climate change, Mr Himanshu Thakkar, Coordinator, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, remarked that we are currently living in the era of the worst environmental governance. Mr Thakkar was a speaker at a panel discussion based on the topic, ‘Environment & Budget 2021: Business as Usual?’. The session was organized by the Impact and Policy Research Institute – IMPRI and India Water Portal.
He expressed reservation about the increased allocation to the Jal Jeevan Mission being hailed as an environmentally sound investment as according to him, it must be viewed just as an infrastructure project. Also, the vehicle scaping policy is voluntary, which does not tell how exactly it will help in abetting pollution, he added.
Expanding on the move to increase the allocations for the Jal Jeevan Mission from Rs 11,000 crore in the Budget 2020 Revised Estimates to Rs 50,011 crores in the current Budget, Mr Thakkar opined the mission adopts a top-down and ‘one size fits all’ approach with no environment and social impact assessment mechanism in place. He maintained that the sustainability of water supply is not taken into consideration. He lamented that there is nothing positive for water, groundwater or rivers in the budget.
Speaking on the push for Hydropower projects by the government, hailing it as a clean and green source of energy, he maintained that this is a misconception and not all non-carbon energy sources are necessarily environment friendly. He added that the environmental footprint of energy and infrastructure projects need to be taken into consideration. He also commented that the urban water sector has a huge carbon footprint but nothing is being done to ameliorate this and there is a policy vacuum in the sector. To tackle this, there is an urgent need for a National Urban Water Policy and the need to develop water-smart cities, he added.
Answering a question on the role and utility of consultants and Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) during the Q & A session, Mr Thakkar pointed out that many Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), Cumulative Impact Assessments, monitoring activities etc are performed by the consultants, experts and committees and governance happens through them. He remarked that what is required is to shift focus on to the governance of these reports, considering that most of these are dishonest and doctored. He added that the consultants cannot be kept out, at least in the short term and hence the thrust needs to be on ensuring credible governance of the decision-making process.
Plotting a framework for future action, Mr Thakkar emphasized on the need to estimate the ecological footprint of all activities. He postulated a system in which every ministry/department must have a methodology to access the ecological footprint of their work and come out with the indices and results. Similarly, every city and even every individual should have the capacity to estimate their ecological footprint. These aspects must then be taken into consideration for the budgeting process and the focus must be on the larger picture, concluded Mr Thakkar.
YouTube Video for Environment and Budget 2021: Business As Usual?
Picture Credits: SANDRP