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Budget 2023 | No more illogical cuts; allocate more for biodiversity conservation

The preservation of biodiversity is crucial for India's ecosystems and is directly linked with providing livelihoods
Last Updated : 29 January 2023, 10:55 IST
Last Updated : 29 January 2023, 10:55 IST

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Last month, India along with 195 countries agreed upon the ‘Kunming-Montreal Global biodiversity framework’ (GBF), a guide for countries to arrest and reverse biodiversity loss, and set a target to conserve 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030 — widely referred to as the ‘30×30’ target. “India can comfortably achieve the target of 30×30 by 2030,” as “almost 27% of the country’s geographical area is already subject to some kind of conservation measure”, said Bhupender Yadav the Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC).

Despite decades of deforestation, fragmentation, and destruction for development, India is known to be home to nearly 8-10 percent of the world's recorded species and four of the 34 globally identified biodiversity hotspots, with over 91,200 animal species and 45,500 plant species documented in the country's 10 biogeographic regions. In terms of endemic vertebrate groups, India’s global ranking is 10th in birds, with 69 species; fifth in reptiles, with 156 species; and seventh in amphibians, with 110 species.

Unfortunately, in spite of ‘some kind of conservation measure’ over 90 percent of the area of the biodiversity hotspots in India has been lost and 25 species have become extinct, according to the Centre for Science and Environment’s ‘State of India’s Environment in Figures 2021’. The Indo-Burma hotspot i.e most of North-East India, is the worst affected and has lost 95 percent of its vegetation area, going from 23.73 lakh sq km to 1.18 lakh sq km. The Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests on the ‘Status of Forests in India’ (2019) expressed concerns about the decline in the forest cover in the North-Eastern states, which constitute 65.34 percent of their geographical area in comparison to the national forest cover of 21.54 percent.

In addition to human driven deforestation, Climate Change caused forest cover in India to decrease dramatically from 2001-2018, shows a recent study from researchers at the University of Reading. About 1,212 Indian animal species are monitored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its Red List, and over 12 percent of these species (148) are endangered.

The biodiversity expenditure review 2018, published by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) indicates that between 2012-13 and 2016-17, finances for conservation were flowing from 116 schemes from 24 Union ministries and 29 departments to the tune of about Rs 20,000 crore ($2.64 million) per year. A biodiversity financial need assessment for implementing India’s National Biodiversity Action Plan for the same time period, pegs the required finances at around Rs 90,000 crore ($12 billion) annually.

Clearly, public funding is the mainstay of biodiversity finance in India, and the MoEFCC is the nodal ministry providing the core funding and other resources. Furthermore, 24 other Union ministries and departments have biodiversity conservation schemes and programmes. At the sub-national level, 28 state governments and eight union territory administrations provide additional resources.

The 2022- 2023 Union Budget, the greenest Union budget according to many, saw an allocation of Rs 3,030 crore to the MOEFCC, 5.6 percent higher than previous year’s allocation of Rs 2,520 crore. Of which, the Green India Mission (erstwhile National Afforestation Programme) was allocated Rs 362 crore (an increase of 42 percent over the revised estimates in 2019-20). Project Tiger and Project Elephant received an increased allocation, with the former getting Rs 300 crore and the latter received Rs 35 crore.

However, the budget for biodiversity conservation was slashed from its already meagre Rs 12 crore to Rs 8.5 crore. The budget for environmental education, awareness, and training was reduced from Rs 77.13 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 58 crore in 2022-23. The budget for statutory and regulatory bodies such as the National Biodiversity Authority, the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Animal Welfare Board, and the Central Zoo Authority was also reduced.

Environmentalists have criticised the budget cuts as regressive and illogical, and are anticipating that the 2023-2024 Union Budget will address these deficiencies in light of India's climate and biodiversity commitments at the UNFCCC and the CBD in 2022. The preservation of biodiversity is crucial for India's ecosystems and the provision of ecosystem services, not only because it provides many goods and services required for human survival, but also because it is directly linked with providing livelihoods to and improving socio-economic conditions for millions of local people.

Shailendra Yashwant (Twitter: @shaibaba) is a senior advisor to Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA).

Disclaimer: The views expressed are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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Published 24 January 2023, 06:38 IST

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