A promising Budget in the midst of a crisis

Vaishali Nigam Sinha New Delhi | Updated on February 04, 2021

Amidst a global pandemic of unprecedented magnitude and an economic downturn, independent India’s first paperless budget (perhaps a reinstatement of the government’s commitment to the environment), is meant to catalyze recovery, in terms of health and finance, and reinvigorate human capital with inclusive development.

At the onset, various tenets of sustainability were touched upon, including and not limited to – significant outlays towards good health and well-being, clean air, renewable energy, water and sanitation, waste management and reducing inequalities.

The launch of a new centrally sponsored scheme, PM AtmaNirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana with an outlay of Rs. 64,180 crores over 6 years, to develop capacities of primary, secondary and tertiary health care centres, strengthen existing institutions and create new ones, will be a welcome move for upgrading the health sector, which is definitely the need of the hour in the context of the pandemic. The launch of Mission Poshan 2.0 by merging the Supplementary Nutrition Programme and the Poshan Abhiyan will hopefully improve nutritional outcomes across the targeted districts, especially among young mothers who should ideally be the focal point of this mission. The budgetary expenditure towards health and well-being has been increased by 137% from the previous financial year.

In other good news for the environment, an allocation of Rs 2,217 crores for 42 urban centres with a million-plus population to tackle the grave air-pollution crisis is a welcome move towards ensuring clean air for our citizens. A voluntary vehicle scrapping policy for phasing out old and unfit vehicles, thus encouraging fuel-efficient, environment friendly vehicles, thereby reducing vehicular pollution and oil import bill was also announced by the government.

In terms of clean energy access, the launch of the National Hydrogen Mission for generating hydrogen from clean sources and introducing a phased manufacturing plan for solar cells and panels will boost the renewable energy sector by developing domestic capabilities. In addition to this, the Rs 1000 crore and Rs 1500 crore allocations to SECI and IREDA and the 3.06 lakh crore allocation for revamping and reforming DISCOMs will be a huge boost for sustainable growth.

The announcement of gig and contractual workers, a bulk of whom are women, being eligible for social security benefits and women being allowed to be employed for all jobs, including night shifts, are milestone initiatives for gender parity. A portal collecting data on migrant and informal sector workers for linking them to social security programmes will be highly beneficial, particularly for women who constitute a large chunk of this segment. With the expansion of the Ujjwala scheme women, who face the highest burden of indoor air-pollution, will have access to clean cooking fuels. Funds to improve the lives of the female workforce in tea gardens is a welcome move as well.

While it can be overall categorized as a smart, pragmatic budget with several growth-oriented provisions. It lays thrust on infrastructure, job-creation and demand pull, without any burden on the common man. There are however areas where this Budget could have done better. Digital literacy, a burgeoning need during the pandemic had no significant provisions, along with provisions for tele-medicines, to bridge the healthcare access divide. One also expected recognition of mental health as an important priority. Plans for fast-tracking electric vehicle deployment and mainstreaming green bonds to finance renewable energy projects were also missing. There was also no concrete allowance for reskilling and upskilling of woman professionals and to encourage woman enttrepreneurs.

However, despite these misses, the overall budgetary outlook is positive (as indicated by the response of financial markets), with the Finance Minister managing to tick most of the boxes. Budget 2021lays the foundation for Atmanirbhar Bharat and rekindles our aspirations to emerge as a $5 trillion economy. It is a positive, holistic budget and now a lot will depend on implementation.

Vaishali Nigam Sinha is ReNew Power’s Chief Sustainability, CSR and Communications Officer.

Published on February 03, 2021

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