BUDGET NEGLECT PEEVES GREEN OFFICIALS 

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By FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 1.03.99
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New Delhi, March 1 :     Environment officials are extremely upset over the allocation made by finance minister Yashwant Sinha for the ministry in this year?s budget. In real terms, taking inflation into account, the budgetary support has gone down and officials feel that the ministry will continue to languish as before for dearth of funds. In fact, ministry officials were already perturbed in the third quarter of the ongoing financial year, when they came to know that they were losing out heavily in the revised estimates of the budget for the ongoing financial year. Usually, real flow of money to any of the development ministries suffers a cut of a maximum of 15 per cent from budgetary allocations in the course of the year. But during the current fiscal, more than 35 per cent of the pledged amount was lopped off by the finance ministry. For example, in the forest and wildlife sector, the allocation this year is only Rs 10 crore higher than last year?s promise. Some forest officials said despite much hype about preservation of animals on the verge of extinction, the government has provided only Rs 106 crore this year. This is only marginally higher than the pledge of Rs 105 crore last year. Recently, the government had given strong indication that it would ensure better habitat for the dwindling tiger population. But the budget does not reflect any concern for the Project Tiger programme. Sources in the ministry said during discussions with the finance minister and other finance officials, both Suresh Prabhu, environment minister, and Vishwanath Anand, environment secretary, had been led to believe that there would be a significant increase in the environment budget. But this has not happened. Some officials hinted that Prabhu ? who spends a lot of time in his home state, Maharashtra, and was busy last year with the fluid political situation there ? did not try hard enough to convince Sinha about a larger Plan size for the ministry. ?We were expecting something in the region of Rs 900 crore for the entire ministry. That would have been a 28 per cent rise from the allocations made in 1997-98. Ultimately, the ministry has been given Rs 700 crore, which is less by Rs four crore from the allocation made last year. If you take inflation into account, we have received a pittance,? he said. What appears to have hurt environment officials all the more is that during the ongoing financial year, the revised budget last year had been slashed from the promised Rs 704 crore to Rs 468 crore. ?We are now being told that the promise of Rs 704 crore was not realistic last year. This year, they will try and hand over the entire Rs 700 crore as promised.? But some prestigious projects started by the ministry are likely to suffer. For example, the Taj Protection Mission was promised Rs 50 crore in the 1997-98 budget and was finally given only Rs 1 crore. As a result, the project hardly functioned. This year, the government has promised Rs 50 crore once again. ?We shall be happy if the government dishes out half the amount,? the official said. The government has been talking a lot about the need to preserve bio-diversity. But it has not set aside any funds for the project. Only the Indian Institute of Bio-Diversity has been given a measly sum of Rs 80 lakh. This will hardly help in the tabulation work of flora and fauna that is on in different parts of the country. Even the project to prevent pollution of national rivers will not acquire momentum. This is one area where the ministry had been demanding a sum in excess of Rs 250 crore. Ultimately, the government has pledged Rs 200 crore. But the official pointed out that in 1997-98, the government had similarly promised Rs 191 crore and finally handed over about half the amount.