The 2019-20 Union Budget ignores India’s Water Management Crisis

Elephants are known to love water. But even as Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her maiden budget speech in the Parliament on July 5, 2019 inadvertently compared the government with an elephant[i], her budget speech did not have too much to do with water.

One expected her budget speech to have more on water particularly when Chennai and Tamil Nadu water crisis has been in the headlines and when the Dr Sitharaman’s speech was full of repeated references to Tamil stuff. And also when even the Prime Minister highlighted need for water conservation in his very first Mann ki Baat in the new term. Strangely, FM’s speech did not even mention water sector related words like flood, hydropower, irrigation (except in the list of GST rate reduction items) or even river or Ganga (except for cargo movement and when used in the erstwhile name of the Ministry of Jal Shakti).

HAR GHAR JAL Among the few references to water in her speech, she expectedly referred to the plan of the newly formed Ministry of Jal Shakti “to ensure Har Ghar Jal (piped water supply) to all rural households by 2024 under the Jal Jeevan Mission”. She said the mission would include “creation of local infrastructure for source sustainability like rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge and management of household wastewater for reuse in agriculture”. This is welcome and one has to see how it will be planned along with ensuring equity and sustainability.

However, for this new mission there is rather inadequate financial allocation in the 2019-20 budget at Rs 9150 Crore under Centrally sponsored scheme National Rural Drinking Water Program, up from BE of 6611 Cr and RE of Rs 5391 Cr last year. Now the FM said in her speech: “the Government will also explore possibility of using additional funds available under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) for this purpose.” How legal tenability of using CAMPA funds for non forest activities is questionable.

The overall Budget of Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, now part of the new Ministry of Jal Shakti, has seen a drop from Rs 22357 Cr in BE 2018-19 to Rs 20016 Cr in BE 2019-20.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan This is important as the Modi government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBM) did not include the aspects mentioned above, as the Economic Survey for 2018-19, made public on July 4, 2019 rightly said: “Going forward, SBM should focus on achieving 100 per cent disposal of solid and liquid waste. Currently, many states are not concentrating enough on this aspect which could pull us back to where we were a few years back. Scientific techniques for the safe and effective disposal of waste should be the next on the agenda for this mission… SBM needs to incorporate environmental and water management issues for long term sustainability and improvements. The issues relating to water availability are expected to be exacerbated by the effects of climate change and incidence of extreme weather events. Investment in the toilet and sanitation infrastructure in future, therefore, demands incorporation of principles of sustainability, circular economy, and adoption of eco-friendly sanitation technologies.”

The non inclusion of solid waste disposal systems in SBM during last five years is already showing impacts when we see honey sucker tankers dumping soak pit sludge next to Delhi’s water supply conveying drain No 8[ii], among other places.

The Budget documents do not show if any of the issues raised above in the quote from the Economic Survey related to SBM are to be addressed in the SBM for 2019-20 in any credible way. The whole Budget speech did not use the word climate change even once!

The Economic Survey for 2019-20 also said: “To continue the momentum created by SBM, the availability of financial resources intermixed with changing mind-sets have to be ensured.” The FM speech did try to address this when it said: “I now propose to expand the Swachh Bharat Mission to undertake sustainable solid waste management in every village.” This is welcome, though this should have been part of the SBM in the first place itself.

The allocation for SBM has hugely dropped by about 30% from BE 2018-19, so how they plan to achieve the sustainability and other benefits is a question mark.

Ganga While the FM speech was completely silent on River Conservation or Ganga Rejuvenation, it did mention the increased allocation for Ganga Waterways to set up two more multi mode terminals at Sahibganj (Jharkhand) and Haldia and a navigation lock at Farakka, all to be completed in 2019-20 and the target to increase the cargo volume on Ganga four times in four years. This shows that the whole Ganga rejuvenation project has been completely forgotten, since all these developments would only adversely affect the state of the River Ganga. Allocation for National Ganga Plan and Ghat Works has seen massive drop from Rs 2300 Cr in BE 2018-19 to BE 2019-20. Similarly, the allocation for National River Conservation Program has seen massive reduction from Rs 1620 Crores in RE 2018-19 to Rs 1220 Cr in BE 2019-20.

Agriculture The allocation for the Department of Agriculture Research and Education has been increased by just 1.5%, lower than annual inflation, at Rs 8,078 crore, compared to Rs 7,953 crore in RE 2018-19. There was no mention of doubling framers income. The finance minister also spoke of “zero budget” agriculture, but contrary to these words, the fertilizer subsidy took a huge jump of Rs 10000 Cr to Rs 80000 Crores. [iii]

Reducing allocations Some other worthwhile relevant mentions from the Budget speech and documents include:

  • FM mentioned in her speech National Water Grids, proudly proclaiming, “we do it on that scale each time”, but nothing more could be found in the Budget documents.
  • FM mentioned in her speech about fisheries framework development, possibly under the new department of fisheries created recently, but again no details. Allocation for Blue Revolution has dropped by about 15% from BE 2018-19.
  • FM mentioned: “This Government sees the rapid urbanization of India as an opportunity rather than a challenge”, but it may have been good if the government came out with National Urban Water Policy and Smart Water City Program, since high water footprint urban development is happening in complete policy vacuum.
  • The allocation for PMKSY (Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchaee Yojana) has only marginally increased by about 2.7%, less than the annual inflation rate.
  • Allocation for MGNREGP has actually dropped from RE 2018-19, this certainly will need to be increased.
  • Allocation for Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has dropped by about 13% from BE 2018-19.
  • The allocation for Groundwater Monitoring and Regulation has also seen massive reduction from BE 2018-19 to BE 2019-20. This is pretty bad sign, there is urgent effective action on Groundwater Monitoring and Regulation.
  • Overall Budget of Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation has reduced from Rs 8860 Cr in BE 2018-19 to Rs 8425 Cr BE 2019-20.

In the end, one is left with the impression that the government loves to talk about what they want to do on various issues related to Water, but one is left rather unconvinced about the conviction behind such words. Sounds a bit like Elephants have different teeth for showing and using?

This is unfortunate, considering the serious water management crisis that India faces now and will surely face in coming year considering the already huge monsoon deficit of 26% till July 5, 2019.

Himanshu Thakkar

Note: An edited version of this was published here: https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/budget/the-2019-20-union-budget-ignores-the-water-crisis-4176241.html


[i] She was referring to the wisdom Pura Nanooru, a Tamil Sangam Era work by Pisirandaiyaar, sung as an advice to the King Pandian Arivudai Nambi, in para 106 of her speech on IndiaBudget.gov.in website.

[ii] For details, see: https://sandrp.in/2019/05/28/common-problems-of-a-common-effluent-treatment-plant-in-yamuna-basin/

[iii] https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/not-for-the-farmer-budget-2019-nirmala-sitharaman-5817671/, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/union-budget-2019-drinking-water-shortage-5817681/

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