An Immoral and Anti-environment Budget

Gopal Krishna is an environment activist.  He can be contacted at krishna2777@gmail.com.

Gopal Krishna

UPA Government’s key mantra or goal for ‘higher growth leading to inclusive and sustainable development’ is essentially immoral, anti-environment, anti-citizens and favourable to commercial czars.

Unmindful of the fact that highly polluting project like Timarpur Okhla waste-to-energy project is taking a huge toll on human health and environment the budget speech in paragraph 96 unwisely  promises to “evolve a scheme to encourage cities and municipalities to take up waste-to-energy projects in PPP mode which would be neutral to different technologies. I propose to support municipalities that will implement waste-to-energy projects through different instruments such as viability gap funding, repayable grant and low cost capital.” The Finance Minister has failed to realize that waste to energy is neither clean nor green.

The proposed scheme should desist from promoting toxic technologies like incinerators being used by likes of Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited in Delhi. It must be noted that for every five truckloads of waste burned, four truckloads are pumped into the atmosphere and one remains as toxic ash, which still must be carefully stored or landfilled. There is a case going on against such a technology in the National Green Tribunal which is due to hear the matter on March 11, 2013. Even the most technologically advanced waste incinerators produce hundreds of distinct hazardous byproducts including dioxins, heavy metals, halogenated organic compounds and the newly discovered threat, nanoparticles. These occur both in toxic air emissions and in ash residuals.

The Union Finance Minister, Shri P. Chidambaram departs from North Block to Parliament House along with the Ministers of State for Finance, Shri Namo Narain Meena and Shri S.S. Palanimanickam to present the General Budget 2013-14, in New Delhi on February 28, 2013. Image: Press Information Bureau, Government of India

The Union Finance Minister, Shri P. Chidambaram departs from North Block to Parliament House along with the Ministers of State for Finance, Shri Namo Narain Meena and Shri S.S. Palanimanickam to present the General Budget 2013-14, in New Delhi on February 28, 2013. Image: Press Information Bureau, Government of India

Such endorsement of National Waste to Energy Policy of the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy does not realize that incineration irreversibly destroys valuable materials and necessitates
the extraction, refinement and assembly of more raw natural resources to produce new products. Alternatives such as recycling, reuse and repair and composting conserve energy by efficiently using materials. This significantly reduces global warming pollution, toxic waste and ecological degradation.

The proposed scheme must factor in the fact that such technologies also displace more affordable and economically productive waste and energy solutions. Alternatives to incineration such as recycling, repair, reuse and composting create ten times more green jobs and small business opportunities that benefit local communities. Incinerators produce more global warming pollution (mainly carbon dioxide) per unit electricity generated than most other kinds of power including coal, gas and hydroelectric. Disadvantaged communities are disproportionately burdened. These communities are more vulnerable to being targeted as sites for new incinerators.

It is admitted in the Union Budget speech that ‘the development must be sustainable – economically and ecologically.’ But the setting up of Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) has made environmental concerns subservient to the implementation of industrial projects at any ecological cost. The decision- making for environmental protection has been referred to as “bottlenecks” in the Union Budget.

The Finance Minister admits that “The original Green Revolution States face the problem of stagnating yields and over-exploitation of water resources” but similar green revolution is being pursued in states like Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.

The endorsement of Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project, the planned Chennai Bengaluru Industrial Corridor and the idea of Bengaluru Mumbai Industrial Corridor in the budget is an act of approving environmental destruction of these regions.

It is quite immoral on the part of the Government to have accepted the recommendations of the Dr. Vijay Kelkar Committee which recommended sale of government owned lands which has been acquired for ‘public purpose’ since 1894. Kelkar Committee submitted its report on September 3, 2012. The committee has recommended that over the next two-three years the government should raise resources by selling unutilised and under-utilised land of the PSUs, Port Trusts, and the Railways, to fund infrastructure sector.

The endorsement of a PPP policy framework for increasing the production of coal for supply to power producers and other consumers with Coal India Limited as one of the partners will emerge as a massive destruction of forests.

The proposed changes in the Foreign Trade Policy to be announced next month and indicated in the Union Budget speech must steer clear of promoting hazardous waste trade and hazardous technologies.

Palaniappan Chidambaram at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 27, 2011/ Image: World Economic Forum/wiki

It is announced that “The new Companies Bill obliges companies to spend 2 percent of average net profits under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). I am glad to announce that the Ministry of Corporate Affairs will notify that funds provided to technology incubators located within academic institutions and approved by the Ministry of Science and Technology or Ministry of MSME will qualify as CSR expenditure.”

Of all the injustices done, the one done in the name of law is the worst. Although the hollowness of Concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is well known it has been introduced formally in the Companies Bill, 2011. Clause 135 of the Companies Bill provides for CSR. Every company having net worth of Rs 500 crore or more, or turnover of Rs 1000 crore or more or a net profit of Rs 5 crore or more during any financial year shall spend at least 2 % of the average net profits in every financial year on activities to be undertaken by the company as specified in Schedule VII of the Bill.

The provision of CSR must be looked at along with the provision in clause 182 of the Bill. It envisages 7.5 % of annual profits of the companies may be given as donations to those political parties which are registered with the Election Commission of India. A formal quid pro quo regime is emerging that will emasculate the political will of the legislatures to regulate indiscriminate commercial and CSR activities away from the glare of media.

Schedule VII mentioned in clause 135 provides a list of CSR related activities including eradication of extreme hunger and poverty, promotion of education, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, combating human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, contribution to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund or any other fund set up by the Central Government or the State Governments etc.

It is noteworthy that the activities that have been mentioned above are functions of the state towards its citizens. This is a case of outsourcing functions of the government to companies. It may have been better if instead of letting companies do CSR activities if the same 2% of their annual profit is collected as tax to create a fund for undertaking state funding of elections. PM’s Fund itself can collect it. Although meager, Government of India did collect compensation money acting as parens patriae (guardian of the nation) after the passage of Bhopal Gas Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985.

Without disclosing the funding that political parties are the key beneficiaries, the Finance Minister says, “I believe there is a little bit of the spirit of Mr. Azim Premji in every affluent tax payer. I am confident that when I ask the relatively prosperous to bear a small burden for one year, just one year, they will do so cheerfully.” This seems to indicate the collusion between the commercial czars and the ruling alliance.

 “By 2025, we could become a $ 5 trillion economy, and among the top five in the world,” says the Finance Minister while concluding his budget speech. The budget paves the way for a $ 5 trillion economy which will be dominated by commercial czars at any human and ecological cost.

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