New Delhi: The Indian government has come under fire after allocating Rs3.5 billion ($52.8 million) for climate change adaptation over the next two financial years, a sum which environmental experts say is woefully inadequate given the size of the country and the challenges it faces.
In a written response to a question by a member of Parliament during a session to discuss the upcoming budget, Prakash Javadekar, India's environment minister, said that the sum allocated to the National Adaptation Fund on Climate Change (NAFCC) will cover the two financial years 2015-16 and 2016-17.
He also said that the adaptation fund had not yet allocated cash towards climate adaptation activities under either the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) or state climate action plans. Experts expressed surprise and concern at the government's announcement.
Upasana Ghosh, of the Indian Institute of Health Management Research, which looks into the health impacts of climate change, and also a principal investigator in the UK-based STEPS Centre, which looks at sustainability issues, said the funding was inadequate given the increasing costs associated with climate change impacts.
"After cyclone Aila, which affected 100,000 people (in 2009), the Indian part of the Sunderbans was allocated 5 billion rupees ($75 million). That is just one event in one single vulnerable area. So isn't 3.5 billion ($53 million) rupees ... for the entire country a bit of a joke?" she asked.
India, the seventh largest country in the world, is home to more than 1.2 billion people, and has a range of landscapes and regions, each with its own needs to adapt to and tackle the impacts of climate change, experts say.
Lyla Mehta, a professor at the UK-based Institute of Development Studies and a visiting professor at the Norway University of Life Sciences, said via e-mail that many parts of the country, both rural and urban, will need help dealing with climate change.
"Dryland and wetland areas, apart from the major mountain ranges, are of course extremely important but we do feel that increasing priority needs to be paid to rapidly emerging urban areas ... which (are) witnessing inward migration, and where most of the urban population growth is likely to take place," she said.
Mehta highlighted particular problems in the Sunderbans, a low-lying southern delta area. People are migrating away from the hard-hit area because of erosion and rising sea level, she said. According to a 2013 study by the Zoological Society of London, the Sundarbans coast is retreating by up to 200 metres (660 feet) per year. Mehta said that the government's allocation of funds for climate adaptation was "a start but not enough".
She added that decisions on which areas receive funds are often shaped by political factors such as pleasing groups of voters, expediency and the whims of political leaders.
"The money needs to be spent wisely and really reach the people who need it the most and not be lost on white elephants or through corruption," Mehta wrote.
Sanjay Vasisht, director of the Climate Action Network South Asia, an advocacy group, said he also believed the sum allocated for climate adaptation was too little.
"The amount required is much bigger," he said, though he noted that there are no credible estimates of how much actually would be required to adequately deal with climate change.
Vasisht believes that the most reliable source of funding for climate change adaptation could be the National Clean Energy Fund, which has received more than $2.5 billion from a carbon tax introduced by the government in 2010 on industries - such as steel production - that use large quantities of coal.
The tax is supposed to fund clean energy programmes, but Vasisht said some of it is instead being used to clean up the polluted Ganges river rather than on climate adaptation measures.