Dr T V Muralivallabhan
The budget of a country is a reflection of the responsibility of a government towards its people. It also declares the path of the policy of the government towards overall development of the nation. Sustainable development is an accepted policy of development among all the countries of the world. United nations (UN) has made this an important principle in the context of the present environmental problems.
The Union Budget for 2019 -2020 is a landmark in the goal of Sustainable Development. This is a real attempt to achieve economic growth by protecting the environment. Even if the whole environmental problems are not addressed, the major environmental pollution like pollution of air and soil are addressed at a satisfactory level.
Air is the most important element vital for the existence for all living beings on this planet. The present condition of the atmosphere represents a balanced and proportional supply of different constituents of air. For example, the proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere is about 22%, and carbon dioxide has a share of 0.002%. This is the balanced proportion of these two gases which is appropriate for the sustenance of life. Suppose the proportion of oxygen is increased to 50%, then the whole planet would be turned into a heap of ashes, if we lit a match stick. On the other hand, if the volume of carbon dioxide is increased beyond a certain level, suffocation will be the result.
Because of the importance of the right proportion of these gases in the air, our forefathers considered Vayu as Deva and therefore they regarded it with reverence. The balance of air is a pre-condition to the harmonious existence of the living beings and this shows the interrelationship between air and life forms on this planet. They are different parts of an integrated whole.
The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century in Europe and the consequent prosperity of its humanity have resulted in the imbalance of the constituents of air in the atmosphere.
Air pollution is the fifth largest killer in India. Outdoor air pollution is a major contributor to stroke, heart diseases, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
On an average, a person breathes about 22,000 times per day, requiring between 16-18 kg of fresh air. As we do not create air, we have no right to pollute it.
If air is imbalanced, then our life on earth will be disturbed, thus establishing the necessity of an interrelationship. Damage done to Earth by the human activity (UNEP study) in 2008 is estimated to be between $2 trillion and $ 4.5 trillion. Dr. Richard Mattison calls of Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) puts the cost estimates at $6.6 trillion or 11 percent of the Global Economic Output.
Automobile pollution is one of the major components of air pollution all over the world. The carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead oxide and other pollutants released by the vehicles are the real culprits behind the phenomenon of thick and heavy smog hanging over many cities, especially Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world.
The government is concerned about worsening pollution levels across cities due to emissions and wants faster adoption of green vehicles. Finance Minister Smt Nirmala Sitharaman is determined to boost the use of electric vehicles as a means to control pollution. “….to make electric vehicles affordable to consumers, our government will provide additional tax deduction of Rs 1.5 lakh on the interest on loans taken to purchase electric vehicles. This amounts to a benefit of around Rs 2.5 lakh over the loan period to the tax payers who take loans to purchase electric vehicles”.
The Faster Adoption of Manufacturing Electric Vehicles (FAME), launched on April 1, 2015 intends to encourage the production of electric vehicles. In the first phase, it provided incentives only for taxis and fleet buyers, while there was no benefit for private vehicles.
The budget also removed import duty on parts for electric vehicles such as e-drive assembly, on board charger, e-compressor and charging gun. Moreover, there are income tax exemptions to global companies who are ready to set up merger manufacturing plants for lithium storage batteries, solar electric charging infrastructure. All these steps will boost the FDI and ‘Make in India’ policy.
Zero Budget Farming and Soil Protection
A report made by the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health says its researchers found exposure to pesticides, linked to depression in adolescents who are living near farms. Pesticides such as organophosphates exert their toxicity by inhibiting AChE activity. Teens who had lower AChE (acetyl cholinesterase) activity showed more symptoms of depression.
Soil is the basic source of food for the living beings. We cannot survive more than a month without food. Fertility of the soil is the major determinant of the food production. The fertility (health and productivity) of the soil depends on the contents of nutrients like phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, sulphur, calcium, iron etc. in it. The human health and productivity also depend on the vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium etc. supplied to the body through food. If these nutrients and minerals are either over supplied or undersupplied to the soil/body, ill health is the result. Hence, a balanced supply of minerals, nutrients and vitamins is a pre-condition of the healthy soil and body.
Green or Grey Revolution?
In the name of increasing productivity, HYV seeds, insecticides and pesticides, chemical fertilizers and irrigation system were introduced in agriculture and the consequences are obvious in the present agricultural scenario. The HYV seeds need large quantity of water and more doses of insecticides and pesticides and also large quantity of chemical fertilizers. As a result, even underground water is exploited in large quantity and the water table has come down dangerously in regions of Punjab, Haryana and Kerala. Poisonous substances could be traced in our cereals as a result of the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides and pesticides. This has resulted in the sporadic spread of a number of diseases like cancer, genetic defects and immunological and other chronic diseases known as toxic substance induced diseases. The rising cost of agriculture coupled with the natural calamities and failure of crops ended in the suicides of lakh of farmers in India.
India which had a perfect village economy, based on an interdependent and recycling life style with self sufficient existence, was totally devastated and destroyed by the so called modern agriculture. In other words, the balance of the ecological constituents of the soil has already been lost.
About 2 billion hectares of soil equivalent to 15% of the earth’s land area has been degraded by intensive agriculture and other human activities. The worldwide loss of productivity due to soil erosion alone is 20 million tonnes of grain per year. From 1972 to 1985, while farming with Green revolution, chemical inputs, initially the production increased, but later it declined.
Losses in the agricultural sector caused by land degradation due to water and wind erosion, salinity and loss of vegetation are pegged at Rs 72,000 crore, which is more than the agricultural budget of Rs 58,000 crore in 2018 – 19, in India.
“70 percent of fresh water consumption in the world is for agriculture. GM seeds fail to adopt to climate changes - modern agriculture leads to farm land degradation and make agriculture a major contributor to GHG gases and climate change.” (www.fao.org)
The above data make it clear that there is an imbalance both in the condition and use of land. The element of land has been ill-treated, misused and exploited beyond limits due to the lack of a cultural factor in the approach. We should remember that the soil is ‘not an inert mass, but a delicately balanced assemblage of mineral particles, organic matter and living organisms in dynamic equilibrium.’ This fact had been recognized in India centuries ago and that is why we regarded the earth as our Mother (Bhoomatha). This is the reason why the so called champions of ‘Green Revolution’ are now crying loudly for an ‘Ever Green Revolution’.
The Soil Conservation
It is very urgent to protect the soil for the sustainability of agriculture. While celebrating the 75th year of independence of India in 2022, the Zero Budget Farming is an Independence Diamond Jubilee Award for the farmers of India. The Budget for 2019 – 20, introduces Zero Budget Farming as the new policy for assuring sustainability of agriculture and to double farmers’ income by 2022. This is the most eco friendly and resource efficient method of cultivation that totally avoids chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides.
Zero Budget Farming (ZBF) is now being practised in the states of Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. These states are now able to reduce the input cost and increase yields, with no destruction of the quality of soil.
ZBF corresponds to the most modern concept of the ‘Circular Economy’. It is an example of the Traditional Wisdom of India. The self sufficient village economies of India were totally cow centered. It had both the forward and backward linkage effects. The economy was flourished by the cows and to a certain extent, for the cows, the fodder was from agriculture, which was nourished and flourished by the cow dung and urine. Right from the sowing of seeds to harvesting and marketing, the cow/ox were part of the game. The cow family was in essence an organic engine of growth in the village economy of India. That is how the cow became so sacred in India.
The modern proponent of Zero Budget Farming is Subash Palekar of Maharashtra, who is an agricultural scientist. He has written many books on this topic including ‘Holistic and Spiritual Farming’.
This is in tune with the SDG targets of UNDP, for 2030. The 17 goals and 169 targets.
- No Poverty
- Zero Hunger
- Good Health and well-being
The above three SDG goals are covered in the 2019 budget of the Central Government. The two ministries dealing with agriculture and allied activities were collectively allocated Rs.1,42,299crore in 2019 -2020, an increase of 80 percent over 2018-2019 allocation.
Besides budgetary allocation, the government is interested in promoting private investment in the agricultural sector in tune with its promise to invest Rs 25 lakh crore in agricultural sector for the next five years.
2019 budget is a ‘Start up’ for sustainable development. The UN has already acknowledged ‘Green growth Initiatives’ for sustainable development. As budget is the most important fiscal tool, greening it through appropriate policies will certainly have an impact on the future of the nation in attaining Sustainable development.
(The writer is an international resouce person in sustainable development and independent director at MSTC Ltd)