Parliamentary panel criticises green budget cuts

It finds funds allocated in previous years remain underutilised

May 04, 2015 03:09 am | Updated 03:09 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Forests has expressed displeasure over the fund cuts for the Ministry this financial year. The committee has found that the Plan allocation for centrally-sponsored schemes in the current year has gone down by almost 50 per cent. While the total allocation for Plan and non-Plan expenditure was Rs. 2,510 crore in 2014-15, it is down to Rs. 2,047 crore this year.

In its report, tabled in both Houses of Parliament on April 27, it has noted that despite greater funding to States being provided under the 14th Finance Commission, the primary responsibility for environmental protection ought to rest with the concerned Union Ministry. It has further recommended the Ministry to take close monitoring and corrective steps and present an Action Taken Report in this regard. The committee has also found that funds allocated in previous years remain underutilised.

River conservation hit The committee has come down heavily on the Centre for the drastic cut in allocation to the National River Conservation Plan. The complete lack of funding either under the Central Plan or State Plan in 2015-16, means that the existing funds are not even enough to carry out ongoing sanctioned works, the report notes. For the financial year 2015-16, against a projected requirement of Rs. 295 crore, a provision of only Rs. 40 crore has been made available.

States respond Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, Kerala Environment Minister told The Hindu that the issue of reduced allotment was raised during the April 6 State Environment and Forest Minister’s conference in New Delhi. “A State like Kerala has 29.8 per cent forest cover, of which reserve forest area including area under wildlife sanctuaries constitutes 28 per cent. This has led to increased man-animal conflict,” he said. “From Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram we are faced with deaths of several people due to animals coming out of the forests,” he said, and added that this year’s Rs. 239 crore allocation to the State was insufficient to address such issues.

Prashant Kumar, Secretary, Forest Department, Madhya Pradesh, said, “Last year the budget for tiger conservation was Rs. 180 crore, this year it is only Rs. 161 crore. The Madhya Pradesh government being keen on tiger conservation has a lot of work to achieve on the ground, which requires adequate funds,” he said. However, he pointed out that it was still too early to judge the impact of the budget allocation as the financial year has just begun.

Maharashtra’s Principal Secretary, Environment, Sitaram Kunte said that it was not possible to comment on the matter without adequately assessing the impact of present budgetary allocation on various projects.

On devolution of greater share of responsibility to the States, Charan Singh, Reserve Bank of India Chair Professor of Economics at IIM, Bangalore said that since forests had been included as one of the areas for resource allocation under the 14th Finance Commission, Central budget cuts should not pose a big problem.

“Rather than analysing the impact on individual schemes, States should find a way to better utilise the additional resources provided to it and utilise it in a responsible manner,” he said.

Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech in 2014, in which he had raised the issue of various Ministries fighting each other and working in silos, he said that reducing the Centre’s role and increasing that of States in various areas of governance would address that problem effectively.

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