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Why 137% Increase in Budget Outlay for ‘Health and Wellbeing’ Is Misleading

Why 137% Increase in Budget Outlay for ‘Health and Wellbeing’ Is Misleading

A woman walks past a painting of PM Modi a day before the start of the national COVID-19 vaccination drive, Mumbai, January 15, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas.

Jaipur: Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman claimed in the Union budget for 2021-2022 that the allocation for the ‘health and wellbeing’ increased from a budget estimate of Rs 94,452 crore last year to Rs 2,23,846 crore this time – a stunning 137%.

However, a closer look reveals that this figure is the result of clubbing the allocations for the Ministry of AYUSH, drinking water and sanitation and nutrition all under the head of ‘health’.

Sitharaman called this a “holistic approach” towards health that focuses “on strengthening three areas: preventive, curative, and wellbeing” – in her speech in parliament on February 1, 2021.

The budget also records a new Centre-funded scheme called Pradhan Mantri Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana, in addition to the National Health Mission, with an outlay of about Rs 64,180 crore over six years.

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan had mentioned this scheme in September 2020. It is aimed at developing capacity at the primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare levels, strengthening existing institutions and creating new ones, specifically to detect and cure emerging diseases.

The budget estimate of Rs 94,452 crore for last year was divided between the Department Health and Family Welfare (Rs 65,012 crore), of Health Research (Rs 2,100 crore), the Ministry of AYUSH (Rs 2,122 crore), drinking water and sanitation (Rs 21,518 crore) and nutrition (Rs 3,700 crore).

The budget estimate this year includes the Department of Health and Family Welfare (Rs 71,269 crore), of Health Research (Rs 2,663 crore), Ministry of AYUSH (Rs 2,970 crore), drinking water and sanitation (Rs 60,030 crore) and nutrition (Rs 2,700 crore).

Apart from this, Sitharaman also said the government would set aside Rs 35,000 crore for the COVID-19 vaccination drive, plus grants for water and sanitation (Rs 36,022 crore) and health (Rs 13,192 crore).

Also read: Despite Govt Claims, India’s Health Budget Only Around 0.34% of GDP

So far from strengthening nutrition outcomes, the budget has cut allocation by 27% – i.e. from last year’s allocation of Rs 3,700 crore for nutrition to this year’s Rs 2,700 crore.

In addition, the government has announced that it intends to merge various nutrition programmes under a ‘Mission Poshan 2.0’, with a limited budget.

The health budget also includes the ‘Jal Jeevan Mission’ (urban), to achieve universal water supply in 4,378 urban local bodies with 2.86 crore household tap connections. This is set to be implemented over five years, with an allocation of Rs 2.87 lakh crore.

Finally, the Health budget also took air pollution and waste management into its ambit. Sitharaman announced the launch of an “Urban Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0” for urban areas and focusing on waste management in cities. For this, the government has set aside Rs 1.41 lakh crore to be spent over five years.

In addition, the government has allocated Rs 2,217 crore for 42 urban centres to improve air quality.

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