Over the years, India has seen various market reforms in economic, trade, tax and financial sector. One sector where the pace of reforms has been slow is the social sector, especially healthcare and education. I am extremely happy to note that this year’s Union Budget has put a special focus on these two sectors. After all, a healthy and educated society is the only way we can take advantage of India’s demographic dividend for overall prosperity. In fact, FICCI has been advocating many of these measures for long and we are delighted to see these being implemented.
The path-breaking announcement in the budget relates to the new National Health Protection Scheme under which an annual health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh will be provided to ten crore families which will cover nearly 40% of the Indian population! This is the world’s largest government funded healthcare program and would lead to a clear increase in demand for quality healthcare facilities and services and to match this rise in demand, several measures have also been announced to improve supply of quality health services in the country.
National Health Protection Scheme will cover nearly 40% of the Indian population!
The National Health Policy, 2017 envisages around 1.5 lakh Health and Wellness Centres to provide comprehensive healthcare including non-communicable diseases and maternal and child health services. The budget proposes a commitment of INR 1,200 crore for this program. It will help the centers to provide free essential drugs and diagnostic services. These schemes would also generate ample employment opportunities.
Besides supporting the demand for healthcare services through insurance framework , the budget has also provided support to the supply infrastructure. The plan to set up 24 new Government Medical Colleges and Hospitals by upgrading existing district hospitals in the country and ensuring that there is at least 1 Medical College for every 3 Parliamentary Constituencies and at least 1 Government Medical College in each State of the country are steps in right direction.
Providing quality education is a major priority for the government. The use of technology to teach as well as to upgrade skills of teachers will go a long way in improving the quality of education in the country. The budget also proposes to launch ‘‘Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022’’, an initiative with a total investment of Rs 1,00,000 crore in next four years to step up investments in research and related infrastructure in premier educational institutions. The Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) would be suitably structured for funding this initiative. The proposal to set Ekalavya Model Residential Schools for tribal population is a pragmatic step towards creating skill based livelihood for these communities. These schools would also provide training in sports and skill development and have special facilities for preserving local art and culture.
In continuity with the focus on women, the government has proposed additional measures in this budget. Access to electricity and LPG connections has also been amongst major thrust areas. The target for providing free LPG connections under the Prime Minister’s Ujjwala Scheme has been enhanced by 3 crore to 8 crore poor women, while under the Prime Minister Saubhagya Yojana around 4 crore poor households would be provided electricity at a cost of Rs 16,000 crore. Under Swachh Bharat Mission, another flagship programme of the government, more than 6 crore toilets have constructed and the plan is to construct around another 2 crore toilets. To encourage corporates to employ more women, the government has also proposed changes to the Employees Provident Fund to reduce women employees’ contribution to 8% for first three years of their employment.
At the start of his speech, the Finance Minister talked about the shift in focus from Ease of Doing Business to Ease of Living and the string of reforms announced in the budget have laid a strong foundation towards that.
Overall, the budget has introduced major reforms in the social sector and we look forward to greater measures in this direction in coming years.
Mr Rashesh Shah, President, FICCI (2018) writes this piece for us.