Much like the 2019-2020 budget, which the Indian prime minister had hailed as a ‘green budget’ even though allocations didn’t reflect this at all, this year, too, there was nothing remarkable about finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s announcements — except for maybe the fact that the words ‘climate change’ had been mentioned for the first time since the 2014-2015 budget speech.
One of the highlights in an almost three-hour speech is the Rs4,400 crore that Sitharaman announced has been allocated to give incentives to large cities with a population of more than a million to come up with plans to clean up their air. What the parameters for these incentives will be are yet to be announced by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC). There is another anomaly in this Rs4,400 crore announcement – how the minister reached this figure remains a mystery because this amount has not been reflected in the budget as yet, a top official from the environment ministry revealed. However, this allocation is expected to fund the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) that has a target to reduce air pollution levels by 20-30% by 2024 from 2017 levels. The National Adaptation Fund was also allocated a paltry Rs80 crore, which is a fraction of what the country actually spends on adapting to climate change.
Among other notable announcements was that the government has ‘suggested’ that old thermal power plants that don’t meet current emissions norms be asked to shut down. This, Sitharaman said, will help India achieve its Paris Agreement target, the implementation of which begins on January 1, 2021. In reality, however, this target will be tough to achieve. Largely because these old power plants (before 1990) generate 34GW of electricity. A submission by the MOEFCC to the Supreme Court revealed that only 4.7GW of the 34GW had been retired by March 2018, and of the 4GW that was to be retired by March 2019, only 1GW was shut down. There is still no concrete plan on how the remaining power capacity will be shut down.
India’s schizophrenic approach towards achieving cleaner power will continue this fiscal year as well. Sitharaman announced the expansion of the PM-KUSUM scheme that aims to help an additional 2 million farmers to set up solar pumps. Although solar power developers were caught unawares by the basic Customs duty of 20% on solar cells and modules – the government’s attempt to boost local manufacturing.
There wasn’t much for farmers in the budget. While the budget for agriculture insurance schemes was increased to Rs15,695 crore from Rs13,640 crore, the budget for Rainfed Area Development and Climate Change was reduced to Rs202 crore from Rs250 crore, which is a significant drop of 20% .
Also, under the new corporate tax regime, new power generation plants will have to pay only 15% tax. The government hopes this will help in the setting up of new companies to meet India’s growing energy demands.
We adhere to environmental, sustainable standards, but there could be lapses: Coal India
Miner Coal India Ltd (CIL) claimed that its coal-producing subsidiaries adhere to environmental and sustainable standards, but did admit that there could be ‘stray cases’ of lapses. This response follows a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which said that six of the seven subsidiaries of CIL have not formulated environmental policies made compulsory by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
Ujjwala scheme failed to promote use of LPG: Study
While India’s Ujjwala scheme provided access to Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) for cooking to the poor, it has failed to get such households to shift away from polluting fuels such as firewood, a study revealed. In order to achieve a complete transition to clean cooking fuel, additional incentives are required, the study stated.
Venue for UN biodiversity meet shifted from China to Italy
The UN biodiversity talks, to be held from February 24-29, will now be held in Rome, Italy, after the deadly coronavirus forced organisers to shift the venue from Kunming, in Yunnan province, China.
UK sacks Claire O’Neill as COP 26 president
The UK government announced this fortnight that Claire O’Neill will no longer be UK COP 26 president. The presidential post will now be held by a minister as part of a reshuffle in the UK cabinet. O’Neill later tweeted to suggest the UK government “can’t cope” with an independent COP team, which wasn’t led by a minister.