Simi Mehta, Amita Bhaduri, Ritika Gupta, Nikhil Jacob, Manoswini Sarkar

From the lens of water professional, Dr Indira Khurana, Vice-Chair, Tarun Bharat Sangh, who has worked in the domain of drinking water and water resources for several years, the budget 2021 held nothing promising for the water sector in particular and the environment in general. Speaking at the Panel Discussion based on the topic, ‘Environment & Budget 2021: Business as Usual?’, she remarked that this time it was just ‘business’, period. The session was organized by the Impact and Policy Research Institute – IMPRI and India Water Portal.

Indira Khurana

Commenting on the quantum leap seen in the allocation 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, she maintained that the project does not take the aspect of ‘source sustainability’ into consideration.

Dr Khurana emphasized the need to ensure source sustainability of water supply, considering that about one-third of the Indian districts face drought issues. She also spoke briefly regarding the quality of water, given that nearly 70% of surface water is polluted and the groundwater is increasingly getting polluted. ‘The one size fits all’ approach for a diverse country like India should be avoided, she cautioned. 

During the Q & A session, Dr Khurana answered a couple of pressing questions. On the utility of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme – MGNREGS in combating environmental challenges, she noted that the funds under this scheme have been used successfully in creating natural assets in many states. She briefly dwelled on how India compares with countries like China in the aspects of environment and development, adding that China is not performing very well viz a viz the environment or sustainable infrastructure.

She remarked that even China follows the philosophy of ‘big is better’ and that India should rather look towards small and decentralized structures and mechanisms. On the question of how to tackle the problem of environmental refugees, she noted that water distress has caused people to migrate and turn into climate refugees. This could be tackled with investment in local and community-driven water resource conservation, using local technologies, she added. 

Charting a way forward, Dr Indira emphasized the importance of decentralized approaches and maintained that there is an urgent need to emulate the examples of people managing their water using rural technology, in keeping with their culture and ecological diversity.

She also voiced out her idea of bringing eminent environmental economists and ground-level people on the same table to estimate the true cost of any interventions like infrastructure projects by factoring the actual cost of the natural assets. Before concluding, she echoed the words of a participant for the need for regenerative economics to rejuvenate the economy and voiced for the need to build people’s movements and raise pertinent questions.

YouTube Video for Environment and Budget 2021: Business As Usual?

Picture Courtesy: The Financial Express