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Budget 2017: Environmentalist Sunita Narain pushes for cess on diesel cars, better public transport

Ahead of the advanced Union budget proposal by FM Arun Jaitley on February 1, Sunita Narain, who heads Centre for Science and Environment, shared her wishlist for budget 2017.

union budget Updated: Jan 24, 2017 16:51 IST
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Union Budget,Centre for Science and Environment,Sunita Narain
Sunita Narain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment, in conversation with HT Jaipur Literature Fest 2017 in Jaipur.(Saumya Khandelwal/HT File Photo)

In a meeting earlier this month, environment minister Anil Madhav Dave said development projects should not be stalled because of studies being commissioned. “They should always put their opinion on record,” he said of non-official expert members. “But we can’t sit on projects for years and keep asking for XYZ studies. The culture of delay must change.”

“Today’s political appetite is not for environment and nature conservation, but for faster growth and development,” said Jairam Ramesh, Congress leader and former environment minister, last week, summing up environmental conservation in India as a “losing battle”.

Against this backdrop, Sunita Narain, who heads Centre for Science and Environment, shared her wishlist for budget 2017.

Focus on clean energy: There is a large amount of money accumulated for the National Clean Energy Fund. In the budget this year, I would want this money put to some really good use. The upgradation of thermal power standards is a task that could benefit from more money.

There are these thermal power standards that must be upgraded so if the government can give money for the upgrading of the standards. Two, if money can be given for energy access, for renewable energy in mini grids and not squander away the money. Right now the clean energy fund, or what is now called the clean environment cess is getting kabhi kuch Ganga mein, kabhi idhar, kabhi udhar spent in unplanned ways). It should have an objective, and clean energy is what it should drive.

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Cess on diesel cars: What we keep asking for and never get is the cess on diesel cars, a higher excise on diesel cars. Every time we ask for it, every year we wrote it, one year we got it and the next year the government withdrew it. The diesel industry is so powerful there is no point in my saying it.

Boosting public transport: We need an exemption on buses and more funding for public transport. A rolling stock of buses is a big issue and in that any exemption we can get on public buses, which is either on an excise duty; excise will be the only thing the government can control. And we need funds for public transport.

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Tax junk food: Actually because (Finance minister) Jaitley is a diabetic, he gave it to us last year, a tax on sweetened beverages. I don’t know, that is what I heard, I was wondering why we got it. Normally an asthmatic cares most about air pollution, if we get an asthmatic prime minister maybe we will get something on air pollution.

On a serious note, the Modi government is contemplating a tax on junk food. The food safety and Standard Act does not define “junk food,” but a group of secretaries recommended imposing an additional tax on foods with “added sugar, salt and saturated fats. Last year Kerala became the first state to impose such a tax.

Follow full coverage of Union Budget 2017 here

First Published: Jan 24, 2017 12:52 IST