In the first annual budget (for the year 2014-15) presented by the new NDA government at the centre on July 10, 2014, it is generally bad news for Ganga and other rivers. Below we have given various provisions on water and river from the budget speech of the Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley. Mr Jaitley said in his speech: “In the first Budget of this NDA government that I am presenting before the august House, my aim is to lay down a broad policy indicator of the direction in which we wish to take this country.” The broad policy indicators on rivers do not seem to be any good news for the rivers of the country.
RIVERS FM said, “Rivers form the lifeline of our country. They provide water not only for producing food for the multitudes but also drinking water.” This shows the limited understanding of rivers that the government has. Rivers provides so much more than water. The FM do not seem to have any good news for this lifeline as the budget has several proposals that will harm and destroy the rivers.
River Linking The PIB wrongly claims, “The Budget also contains the first ever effort to link the rivers across the country.” A sum of Rs. 100 crore in the current Budget to expedite the preparation of Detailed Project Reports has been set aside. This is waste of public money. In addition to this, there is a huge allocation for the annual budget for NWDA, whose only mandate is studies for river linking. It is existing for 22 years, but has not produced a single document that will pass independent public scrutiny, and NWDA is afraid to put any document in public domain. Why is the government spending money on such fruitless exercise?
GANGA: Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission The Finance Minister, Shri Arun Jaitley said, “I propose to set up Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission called “Namami Gange” and set aside a sum of Rs 2,037 crores for this purpose.” Shri Jaitley said that the Mission is being launched because a substantial amount of money has been spent in the conservation and improvement of the river Ganga but the efforts have not yielded desired results because of the lack of concerted effort by all the stakeholders. This is admission of even NDA’s failure, since they were in power for at least six years and have not been able to make a dent in the state of the river. They should learn from that experience before jumping into such missions.
This raises a lot of unanswered questions: There is already an existing National Mission for Clean Ganga and if this new mission will be in addition to the old one or if the old one will be abolished? What is new in the new mission? Strangely, the FM did not use the work Ganga Rejuvenation, the charge that Ms Uma Bharti has been given. Does this indicate something is amiss here?
Riverfront Development “The Finance Minister has also set aside a sum of Rs. 100 crore for Ghat development and beautification of river front at Kedarnath, Haridwar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad, Patna and Delhi in the current financial year since Riverfronts and Ghats are not only places of rich historical heritage but many of these are also sacred.”
The trouble is, this could spell disaster for the river and the cities where such development is planned, if this is going to happen on the lines of Sabarmati river front development. This is because in case of Sabarmati, the Riverfront development meant encroachment of over 200 ha of riverbed. If this is followed the river’s carrying capacity will be reduced. In changing climate, rivers need more and not less carrying capacity as the events of July 2005 in Mumbai, of August 2006 in Surat & recent years in Delhi have indicated. During Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 the buildings that we saw collapsing were all standing on the riverbeds. That should be a warning for any riverfront development that would encroach on the riverbed.
NRI Fund for Ganga To harness the enthusiasm of the NRI Community to contribute towards the conservation of the river Ganga, an NRI Fund for Ganga will be set up which will finance special projects, the Finance Minister added.
“A project on the river Ganga called ‘Jal Marg Vikas’ (National Waterways-I) will be developed between Allahabad and Haldia to cover a distance of 1620 kms, which will enable commercial navigation of at least 1500 tonne vessels. The project will be completed over a period of six years at an estimated cost of Rs 4,200 crore.”
Watershed Development To give an added impetus to watershed development in the country, a new programme called “Neeranchal” will be launched with an initial outlay of Rs 2,142 crore in the current financial year. This could be a positive move, but we have to await the details. It is also not clear if this is in addition to the ongoing watershed development or in place of it.
Rural Drinking Water For providing safe drinking water, Rs 3600 crore has been earmarked under National Rural Drinking Water Programme in approximately 20,000 habitations affected with arsenic, fluoride, heavy/toxic elements, pesticides/fertilizers through community water purification plants in next 3 years, the Finance Minister added.
Delhi Water Reforms Rs. 500 crore for water reforms to make Delhi a truly World Class City. The budget does not say a word what these reforms would mean, but going by the track record of this government in past, when they say reforms, they mean privatisation, which will be strongly opposed in Delhi.
Allocation for Renuka has no justification The FM said, “In addition, to solve the long term water supply issues to the capital region, construction of long pending Renuka Dam would be taken up on priority. I have provided an initial sum of Rs 50 crore for this.” Firstly Renuka dam does not even have statutory forest clearance and NGT has stopped work on the project. FM, but allocating money for the project in such a situation has indicated that they do not care for statutory clearance process or judicial orders.
Moreover Delhi does not need any more water from outside. It is already privileged with per capita water availability of over 250 lpcd, which is more than most European cities. Delhi does not harvest rain water, does not use flood water to recharge, does not protect its water bodies, does not treat its sewage, does not recycle and reuse the treated sewage, does not reduce its losses, does not do demand side measures and like a spoilt kid, asks more and more water from long distance sources.
Thirdly, Delhi may want exclusive share in water from Renuka, but Upper Yamuna states of Haryana, UP, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh are all asking for their share from the project and are ready to share the costs. Going ahead with the project without resolution of the interstate issues may land us in a soup similar to the Munak Canal.
Allocation for Statue of Unity The budget provides Rs 200 crore for ‘Statue of Unity’ in Gujarat. This project is come up in eco sensitive zone, and will affect large no of people and water body, but it has not seen any social or environmental impact assessment or participatory consultative process. It is supposed to come up in the middle of the water reservoir to be created by the proposed Garudeshwar Dam on Narmada river, but that dam has no impact assessment or clearances and stands challenged in NGT. Allocating money for the project under the circumstances is inappropriate.
Welcome Move: National Centre for Himalayan Studies in Uttarakhand “There is a great need to increase the capacity in the country for Himalayan Studies. I propose to set up a National Centre for Himalayan Studies in Uttarakhand with an initial outlay of Rs 100 crore.”
Irrigation The Budget provides Rs. 1,000 crore for Pradhan Mantri Krishi Seenchaayi Yojana. If this is for decentralized local systems, it would be a welcome move, but no details are available.
Welcome move: Organic farming in North East India Rs 100 crore has been provided in the budget to promote organic farming in Northeast India. This is a welcome move.
Welcome move: National Climate Change Adaptation fund for small farmers The FM said, “Climate change is a reality which all of us have to face together. Agriculture as an activity is most prone to the vagaries of climate change. To meet this challenge, I propose to establish a “National Adaptation Fund” for climate change. As an initial sum an amount of Rs 100 crore will be transferred to the Fund.” This is welcome, but we need to see who corners this money. It should go to the rainfed farmers.
Some other welcome provisions: Finance to 5 lakh landless farmers through Nabard since landless are not able to get bank loans in absence of land as a guarantee; Rs 50 core set aside for blue revolution for inland fisheries. This is provided there is a move to conserve the riverine fisheries.
On the whole, in spite of some welcome moves, on the whole, the budget brings more bad news for the rivers & those depend on rivers and rains, than good.
1. Budget speech of the FM: http://indiabudget.nic.in/ub2014-15/bs/bs.pdf
2. PIB Press Releases from Finance Ministry on July 10, 2014: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx
Additional issues from Media:
1. The Hindustan Times reported that the budget has reduced the allocation for MEF by 15% compared to previous year: http://www.hindustantimes.com/specials/coverage/unionbudget2014/budget2014/environment-gets-raw-deal-renewable-energy-a-fillip/sp-article10-1238988.aspx
2. The Indian Express has reported that the budget provides additional provisions for shutting downNGOs and Trusts: http://indianexpress.com/article/business/business-others/budget-makes-it-easier-for-govt-to-shut-down-ngos-and-trusts/
3. CSE: “Budget 2014 allocates Rs 200 crore for statue and Rs 50 crore for 50 million people who depend on the handloom sector. What does this say of priorities?”
4. BJP’s maiden budget disappointing for farmers: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/bjp-s-maiden-budget-disappointing-farmers
5. ‘Budget silent on crucial farmer suicide issue’: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/City/Chandigarh/Budget-silent-on-crucial-farmer-suicide-issue/articleshow/38163502.cms
6. Good, bad and ugly – YJA ‘green’ take on the Union Budget 2014-15: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/good-bad-and-ugly-our-green-take-on-the-union-budget-2014-15/