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Budget 2018 Reactions: Very Little In The Budget On Climate Change: Dr Leena Srivastava, Vice Chancellor, TERI School Of Advanced Studies

"Several measures in the budget have tried to address themselves to the rural distress situation. The focus on improving productivity, increasing agricultural incomes, strengthening the agri-logistics infrastructure are positive generally but raise questions from a resource efficiency point of view", Dr Leena Srivastava

In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, Dr Leena Srivastava, Vice Chancellor of TERI School Of Advanced Studies, shares her views on the Budget introduced on February 1st. Edited excerpts:

There will be a BW Report Card – On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate the budget?

I would give the Budget a 6 out of 10

Do you feel this is an election budget?

Most definitely.

Is the jobs / employment issue adequately addressed in the Union Budget?

The Finance Minister did speak of a number of schemes that, if implemented well, would lead to the generation of employment. However, the larger part of the budget seemed to be devoted to supporting those already employed, which too is important. The Budget had very little to give assurance to the Urban youth who are struggling to find suitable employment after completing their higher education.

Is the rural distress / agriculture crisis adequately addressed in the Budget?

Several measures in the budget have tried to address themselves to the rural distress situation. The focus on improving productivity, increasing agricultural incomes, strengthening the agri-logistics infrastructure are positive generally but raise questions from a resource efficiency point of view. Similarly, the targeted coverage of households under the UJJWALA Scheme, the provision of free electricity to 4 crore households, the health insurance cover, extension of irrigation are all measures in the right direction. The challenge is in not inter-linking various initiatives, for example, improvement of indoor air environment with health coverage; the provision of free electricity with the lost entrepreneurship opportunity etc.

How does the budget look in terms of sustainable development and Climate change efforts? 

There is very little in the budget on climate change. However, since sustainable development has a much wider connotation, elements of the Budget do speak to various sustainable development goals, albeit following a traditional siloed approach.

How do you summarise the Union Budget, in a few hundred words?

This year’s Budget, apart from being an election-oriented one, has again turned out to be a mere accounting exercise, in its presentation at least. It provides no idea as to the performance of various schemes/measures supported in the last Budget nor a clear rationale for current allocations and measures. The Finance Minister may wish to consider a totally different Budget speech next year which limits itself to a few highlights that delineate, and aggregate, the key measures that are addressing the major challenges/aspirations of India. The details can always be obtained from the detailed budget documents.

The Budget documents also need to convey a more systemic approach to development and growth than is done currently. For example, the Minister spoke about some measures to reduce air pollution – both indoor and ambient, but failed to link this to the burden of disease contributed here from or to the health coverage scheme. The two stand totally independent when over 30% of the burden of disease in India is on account of broader environmental issues. The Budget also seeks to provide water to all in about 500 cities but gives scant attention to the efficient management of scarce water resources in India’s drying cities. Several such examples can be found throughout the Budget.

On education – India can only talk about its demographic dividend if we pay equal attention to the quality of capabilities we are creating in our young and not merely focus on the numbers. And this applies to the Schools for which the minister recognised the need for teacher training but also to the higher education Institutions that are struggling with huge faculty shortages. Research budgets for academic Institutions – public or private – must be increased several fold again with a clear outcome orientation.

Prima Facie a number of the measures listed in the Finance Ministers speech cannot be argued against. Even if driven by electoral considerations, the clear focus given to the under-privileged sections of society are very welcome. The question that we should be worried about is – are we creating robust and capable societies or are we grooming our societies to continue to be dependent on sops and government support?


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