With the Union Budget-2018 according priority to agriculture and rural development, education, health and infrastructure, there was much benefit derived by the environment sector, including the emphasis on air pollution, provision of electricity to all and cleaning of River Ganga.

With air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region a cause of concern, a special scheme has been proposed by Union Finance minister, Arun Jaitley, to be implemented to support the efforts of the governments of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and the NCT of Delhi to address air pollution and to subsidise machinery required for insitu management of crop residue.

As part of the rural push, government has addressed the stubble-burning issue, that was blamed for the smog that enveloped Delhi and its surrounding region at the beginning of this winter, and made allocations to help the farmer. This, experts say, will have a twin benefit on rural India as well as environmental changes.

“There were some positives for environmental sustainability in the Budget, including the attention to air pollution, the increase in the target under the Ujjwala scheme from five crore to eight crore poor women, who will benefit from free LPG connections and the recommitment to the Saubhagya scheme which aims at providing electricity to all,” The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) said in a statement. However, it urged the government to recognise that air pollution in not an NCR issue and hoped it will move towards launching a national programme for improving air quality in the entire country. This would need coordinated interventions in public transport, e-mobility and strengthening of the Pollution Control Boards, TERI said.

Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan described the General Budget as “a growth-oriented New India Budget for Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”. In a statement here, the minister said it is an all-inclusive budget and interests of every section of the society have been taken care of. Referring to the special scheme to address air pollution in Delhi-NCR region, Vardhan said, “Machinery required for institutional management of crop residue will be subsidized. Our scientists are also working to develop a viable process to handle stubble.”

The minister said amending the vintage Indian Forest Act would give some relief to small and marginal bamboo farmers, mainly from the North East. “Removal of bamboo from the definition of ‘tree’ was historic; the amendment was made after 90 years, which would now legally help cultivation and monetisation of bamboo through Restructured National Bamboo Mission and help the rural economy, especially in the North Eastern region,” Dr Vardhan said.

TERI also expressed concern that allocations to ministries that are important from the perspective of environmental sustainability have been reduced in the interest of a lower fiscal deficit. These are the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (allocation reduced by over 36 per cent compared to last year), Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (reduction of 37 per cent), Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (reduction of 18 per cent) and Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (reduction of 10 per cent).

“It is hoped that as GST revenues stabilize the budgets of these ministries will be restored. One of the reasons for lower allocation to some of these ministries is also the diversion of the coal cess towards compensation to states on account of GST. It is hoped that in due course the proceeds of the coal cess will be redirected towards the purpose it was originally designed for ~ clean energy and environmental sustainability,” TERI said.

Cleaning of the Ganga was another major issue raised in the Budget, with a total of 187 projects sanctioned under the Namami Gange programme for infrastructure development, river surface cleaning, rural sanitation and other interventions at a cost of Rs 16,713 crore.

The Finance Minister said 47 projects have been completed and remaining projects are at various stages of execution. All 4,465 Ganga Grams (villages on the banks of the river) have been declared open defecation free, he said.