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Health budget: High on rhetoric, low on substance

New Delhi, Feb 1 (IANS) In the course of a Budget speech that lasted close to three hours on Saturday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman ended up announcing Rs 69,000 crore for health, barely Rs 5,170 crore higher than the last budgetary allocation in July, 2019.

At a time when the world is facing the prospect of challenges in the health sector, the allocation for health care sector in fiscal 2020-21 appears disappointing.

The minister tried to gloss over by repeatedly emphasising on funds allocated under Ayushman Bharat scheme. “In order to achieve the holistic vision of health care that translate wellness of the citizens, about Rs 69,000 crore have been provided for health care in Union Budget 2020-21. It includes Rs 6,400 crore for Prime Minister Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY).”

However, till date, there is lack of public awareness on Ayushman Bharat Yojana. In fact, a few states, such as Delhi and West Bengal do not even implement the Ayushman Bharat Yojna. The criteria for registering for the scheme is also very categorical. Therefore people hardly know if they are eligible to get benefits of the scheme.

Sitharaman said, “Presently, under PM Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) there are more than 20,000 empanelled hospitals. We need more in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities for poorer people under this scheme. It is proposed to set up Viability Gap funding window for setting up hospitals in the PPP mode. In the first phase, those Aspirational Districts will be covered, where presently there are no Ayushman empanelled hospitals.”

The Indian Medical Association has in a press release stated that instead of investing in infrastructure, the government is hellbent on giving away money to life insurance companies. “There is acute scarcity of medical staff and infrastructure in government hospitals. Instead of focusing on those issues the government has given an eyewash to the people in the name of Ayushman Bharat.” says Dr Santanu Sen, ex-president of Indian Medical Association.

In the backdrop of the novel coronavirus outbreak, within barely 20 days China constructed two speciality hospitals to treat infected patients. The question being posed in various quarters is that if such a pandemic breaks out in India, are we equipped to contain the situation the way China did? Do we have the resources to deal with the situation, given the paltry increase in the budgetary allocation this year?

–IANS

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