11am, 1st February: a moment for which people across the country wait anxiously every year. Why?
That’s when our Finance Minister presents the Annual Budget of the Government of India. Err... too many big words…
So, the government is responsible for a lot of things—ensuring that we go to school, we get good learning facilities, we have good greenery, we have good law and order, we have good roads and trains, and so on and so forth. But to do all this, it needs to raise and spend money.
So, it makes an annual budget. This budget tells us about the total money it is hoping to collect over the coming year, how much it plans to spend in that year, and where it plans to spend it. The people of our country earn about Rs. 3,00,00,000+ crore in total (or over 3 crore crore)!!! This is called our country's GDP. Just try to remember it. (Quiz: Figure out how many zeroes are there in it.)
The government taxes this earning to spend on us. From April 2023 to March 2024, our government plans to spend Rs. 45 lakh crore out of all this money earned. The Annual Budget of India explains how this 45 lakh crore will be spent.
Every year, the government spends some of this money on different ministries and departments to get a lot of work done. Like, conducting your board exams in schools following the CBSE and state boards; building your playgrounds and stadiums; or even vaccinating you guys for any new diseases. All this allocation is listed in the budget. How much money the government allocates to a particular thing, shows its importance for the government. Therefore, in a sense, the budget is a statement of the government’s priorities.
Guess where has the government spent the most of its money?... In defense—for protecting us from any danger. The Ministry of Defence receives, by far, the largest allocation—nearly Rs. 6 lakh crore. This is followed by the ministry of road, then railways, then food, and so on.
Do you know there’s a ministry for you, kids, as well? And the government has given money to it to take care of your issues? It’s called the Ministry of Women and Child Development. It has received Rs. 25,000+ crore. It will use some of this money to run the ‘Poshan Abhiyan,’ which will ensure that all you little ones remain chubby and healthy. Then, there’s a Ministry of Education which has received more than a lakh crore! This is to run the government schools and colleges, and to set up the National Digital Libraries, which will provide multilingual books to students from all over India.
The Nature’s Budget
We also have a Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). Caring for our environment is one of the main tasks of our government and is even mentioned in our constitution! So, our goverment plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070. Find out what’s ‘net zero,’ and also how old you will be by 2070. Hehe…
Now, the MoEFCC has received Rs. 3,000+ crore this year. It is only a slight increase over the last year’s budget but we can see that the government is at least bothered about our flora and fauna. Apart from the regular tree-plantation and river-cleaning projects, our government is going to spend on a lot of environmental schemes. But how? Well, the government appoints people—obviously, by paying salaries—to brainstorm upon the rules and regulations regarding pollution. The police and courts then penalise the culprits like, those throwing garbage into rivers or driving cars that emit too much smoke. Our current budget, for instance, has framed rules for protecting our wetlands. If you guys don’t know about wetlands, then quickly check out the Young Environmentalist’s MasterClass: Our Vanishing Wetlands.
The government invests money for telling people about the importance of a green environment. And how does it do so? By educating them through advertisements. It’s going to call such a project, ‘LIFE,’ which stands for Lifestyle for Environment. Speaking about environmental awareness… There’s one of your friends who’s been doing it for the past 24 years! Who’s it??? Yours truly, the Gobar Times!
And the influence of gobar ('cowdung' in Hindi) is quite widespread as the government is launching a GOBAR-Dhan scheme in this budget. It’ll be establishing 500 ‘waste to wealth’ plants for proper management of waste from households, industries, agriculture, etc. Also, incentives will be given for increasing the use of biogas produced from this waste.
Further, we’re going to have an exclusive programme for conserving mangroves. This government has launched something called MISHTI— Mangrove Initiative for… blah… blah… It’s basically meant to grow more mangroves along our coasts and saltpans. For those of you who don’t know: mangroves serve as a buffer zone between the land and the sea. Cyclones approaching from seaside can slow down and cause less damage if we have a healthy mangrove belt.
However, this budget has reduced the money meant for the National Mission for Green India, which aimed at spreading our forest cover. Our forests are anyway dwindling because of our economic activities. But these activities give us money, though, we want greenery too. So, how are we going to balance our development with the environment?
Green growth is an attempt to achieve economic growth while minimising environmental damage. Green growth is, therefore, one of the top-seven priorities of this year’s budget.
We all know that it is highly polluting to burn fossil fuels for generating energy. Doing so emits almost 70 per cent of the global greenhouse gases. But energy—electricity, transport fuel, etc.—is a key requirement for economic growth. That’s why the government will be spending Rs. 10,000+ crore on the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. This is nearly 50 per cent higher than the previous budget but it is much less than what the government will be investing on fossil fuels this year. As pointed out in our Down To Earth (DTE), the allocation for the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is as high as Rs. 41,000+ crore. Nonetheless, funds will be invested in ‘clean’ energy technologies through initiatives like the National Green Hydrogen Mission. Find out if and why hydrogen is ‘cleaner’. A Green Credit Programme will also be started to help businesses working on sustainable practices.
Similarly, bio-fertilizers and pesticides—i.e. non-chemical fertilizers—will also be promoted. Farmers will be encouraged to adopt ‘natural farming’. Further, more funds will be given to the Indian Institute of Millet Research for helping us increase millet production. And why millets…? Quickly read the Jan’23 edition of Gobar Times.
Now, What’s Missing?
Air pollution is one of the biggest problems choking our country today. The DTE reports that outdoor air pollution causes nearly 10 lakh deaths a year in India. One would expect the government to focus upon this matter, right?? However, it hasn’t prioritised this in the present budget.
Government bodies face huge resource crunch while implementing their pollution-control policies. Don’t believe me? The next time you see someone burning garbage (illegal as per law) or chopping off a tree without permission (again illegal), try filing a complaint and getting it stopped. You’ll know what a nightmare it is. Unfortunately, the budget doesn’t seem to indicate that this situation would change as the government hasn’t given it much concern.
Do you think that the government is doing all that it can to protect the environment? Do you think it has put money in the right places? In the right amounts? Think now.