29 November 2022
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The temptation to fill this article with numbers and make a case for higher budgetary allocations to help conserve India’s wildlife and natural habitats in the upcoming Union budget is irresistible. Especially, given the scope and geographical coverage that the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has to operate in, making it difficult to work within the given Budget.

The monetary policies to support economic growth in the pandemic ravaged years and to deal with bottle-necks, demand-supply mismatch leading to rising inflation, and with general elections not far… the finance minister like always has a very crucial role to play. In these times focusing on the environment would be the most prudent step.

The Union Environment minister speaking recently at the South Asian Consultation meeting said that “we need to encourage investment for sustainable use with necessary regulations to increase ABS (access and benefit-sharing) fund, which can be used for conservation of biodiversity and betterment of the local community”. This was said referring to The Biological Diversity Act, 2002. Further, he said that India subscribes to the theory and practice of green infrastructure development and ‘Development and Design’ particularly in the linear infrastructure sector that “we build to promote economic development, conservation and connectivity”

In the current consumption-based linear economic model, human well-being will always be compromised for “economic growth”, this needs to change. The prime minister in one of his speeches stressed the need to move towards a circular economy and the upcoming budget would be a good start to his intent. A circular economy means moving away from our current linear economic models of taking materials from Earth, making products from them, and eventually throwing them as waste. A circular economy allows economic well-being while tackling issues such as resource management, waste and pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change to name a few.

India’s move towards renewables is a commendable start; however, this will also have to keep in mind the impact it may create if not done well. Renewable energy plants or farms at the wrong places can destroy critical natural ecosystems and threaten endangered species. Thus, bringing down the net benefits significantly if not irreversibly.

The Budget can help tackle this by incentivizing installations in the right locations. Economic activities need to promote regeneration of natural systems and move away from take-make-waste processes, this can be driven by the right budget allocations. Principles of the circular economy if incorporated in the Budget will help transition to sustainable economic progress.

The prime minister’s vision for development and design can be boosted by smart allocations; for example, the Budget must make provisions for mitigation measures along linear infrastructure be it roads, canals, railway, or transmission lines. This will in all likelihood save lives of endangered species such as the Great Indian Bustard, Elephant, Tiger, and Rhinoceros more than any other measure while quickening the completion time.

The Budget must increase allocations for both fundamental and applied research. There is evidence to show that investing in research positively impacts economic well-being. Research in fundamental sciences, biomimetics, natural resource management, biodiversity, and the environment will not only help come up with potential solutions to the most complex issues but will also help arrest the brain drain from our country.

The Prime Minister at World Economic Forum, Davos said in keeping our goal of ‘Global good’ we commit to a net-zero target by 2070. India’s growth will be green, clean, sustainable, and reliable. Further, he said that the country is 100 percent committed to mitigating climate change impact. Increasing budgetary provisions significantly for the MoEF&CC will enable the realisation of this vision, as sustainability is the core of this ministry.

Budget 2022 is a great opportunity to lay the foundation for a new paradigm. Incentivizing circular economy, making provisions for mitigation measures, investing in research, investing in regeneration, and maintenance of natural systems hold the key. It will empower 1.3 billion of us and our country to build resilience, create wealth, prosper, bring economic well-being, and be a leader.

The author is Head, The Habitats Trust- not-for-profit working towards the protection and conservation of India’s natural habitats.Views are personal.

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Abdul Gh Lone

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