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    Forests, environment and climate change budgets overlook the marginalised

    EnvironmentClimate changeForests, environment and climate change budgets overlook the marginalised
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    Forests, environment and climate change budgets overlook the marginalised

    Budget 2022 has not worked to realise the commitments the prime minister made at COP26. The most marginalised have not been considered in the making of the coming year’s budget for MoEFCC.

    By Lee Macqueen

    The intergovernmental panel on climate change’s sixth assessment report (2021) has raised projections for warmer climate and further water excess and stress related events in SouthAsia. The projections warn of rampant, intense and frequent in the form of forest fires, heatwaves, water stress and flooding, shifts in weather conditions for making agriculture unviable and impacting food security.

    India has been increasingly experiencing the manifestation of extreme weather events.  These were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The country, therefore, needs to adopt the disaster and climate risk budgeting approach to transition from contingency to progressive risk informed investments and development. Besides, it needs to keep the poorest at the centre of development because they are the ones who bear the impact of disasters most disproportionately.

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    The need for such risk budgeting, bearing in mind the risks faced by the poorest, pivots around the government’s commitments. These commitments are best viewed through the lens of the union budget. Has the finance minister provided enough to build the resilience of Dalit and tribal people?

    The ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) has displayed a lack of enthusiasm in matching the allocation with the new commitments made by the prime minister at COP26. The total budget for 2022-23 stands at Rs. 3030 crores, a mere 16.83 per cent increase over the revised estimates of 2021-22. At Rs 30 crores, the overall allocations made to the climate change action plan has remains unchanged for the coming financial year (when seen against the revised estimates for the 2021-22). The national adaptation fund too has remained static at Rs. 60 crores.

    People lost in the woods

    MoEFCC’s has been allocated Rs. 158.70 crores for the ‘welfare of scheduled castes’ and Rs. 165.20 crore for the ‘welfare of scheduled tribes’.  The allocations for scheduled tribes amounts to five per cent of the population ratio, denying approximately Rs. 90 crores to the tribal population. The Ministry has stuck to the five per cent threshold for scheduled castes as well, and has denied them Rs. 333.30 crores, thereby, violating the erstwhile scheduled caste sub-plan and tribal sub-plan guidelines. However, going by the revised guidelines by NITI Ayog, the proportion amounts to 16.48 per cent for scheduled castes 17.15 per cent for scheduled tribes (of the central sector schemes budget of the ministry).

    The schemes enunciated by the government include (1) the national mission for a green India, encompassing national afforestation programme and forest fire prevention and management; (2) integrated development of wildlife habitats (for tigers and elephants); (3) conservation of natural resources and ecosystems; (4) conservation of aquatic ecosystems; (5) biodiversity conservation; and (6) a national adaptation fund.

    These schemes promoted by the budget, though legitimate, appear to be very general in nature. Schemes like the national mission for green India, for instance, do not reflect how they will build the adaptive capacity of the Dalit, tribal and other marginalised communities who are disparately affected by climate change. The main breadwinners of 80 per cent of rural dalit and tribal households take home less Rs. 5,000 a month. These families lack the capacity to recover without assistance.

    Which is why, it will be fair to surmise that the allocations for the ministry of environment and forests and climate change is extremely low. Tribal communities and other forest-dwelling communities, including the scheduled castes, possess marginal to no landholding in forest or non-forested areas. Therefore, in view of the dwindling of the cover and quality of forests that these communities have been traditionally dependent on, it is clear that these schemes appear deceptive and misleading.

    These shortcomings in the budget overshadow a handful of its positive aspects. For example, the union budget has provided for the implementation of ‘grants-in-aid for state disaster mitigation fund’. It has also provided for an ‘assistance to states from the national disaster mitigation fund’. These are in response to the recommendations of the 15th finance commission. The finance ministry has allocated Rs. 4658.8 crores and Rs. 2602 cores respectively in 2022-23 budget for these two schemes.

    But alas! The negatives are overwhelmingly loaded against the most marginalised.

     

    Lee Macqueen is s Senior Programme Manager for Inclusive Disaster Response and Climate Change Adaptation at the National Dalit Watch- National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.

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