Misplaced priorities? Budget 2015 doesn't allow govt to take on spread of diseases like swine flu

When it comes to allocation for the healthcare sector, governments in India have always been stingy. Arun Jaitley's 2015-16 budget shows the Modi government is no different and that is bad news, especially when swine flu is spreading across the country.

The government has allocated Rs 33,152 crore to the health sector. In his Budget in July 2014, Jaitley had earmarked Rs 30,645 crore, which, according to an earlier Reuters report, was further cut by 20 percent due to the fiscal strains.

Misplaced priorities? Budget 2015 doesnt allow govt to take on spread of diseases like swine flu

Reuters image

Apart from this allocation, the minister has made proposals to set up All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in J&K, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and Assam. Another AIIMS-like institution will come up in Bihar too.

Another step taken by the finance minister to widen healthcare net is increasing the limit of deduction in respect of health insurance premium (Section 80D of the Income Tax Act) from Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000.

However, experts are disappointed with the measures taken as they fail to address many burning issues that need urgent attention.

"It is not clear how the marginal increase in allocation will take care of the family planning agenda and the new AIIMS," Population Foundation of India executive director Poonam Muttreja has been quoted as saying in a report in The Times of India.

The announcement of the five more AIIMS need to be taken with a pinch off salt as this is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. The July budget had also proposed to set up four AIIMS-like institutions in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. The fund set aside was a meagre Rs 500 crore. There is no update on what has happened to this plan yet. But with the cut in the health allocation last year, there is no reason to believe that the government has made any headway on this.

Coming back to the immediate issues in the healthcare sector, one has to look at the allocation in the context of the spreading swine flu in the country. According to a PTI report, citing health ministry statistics, swine flu has claimed 1,041 lives as of 28 February while the number of people affected by the virus crossed 19,000.

In this context, as the healthcare sector experts point out, it is urgently needed to allocate funds to control such disease outbreaks.

The allocation itself is too low. As a percent of total expenditure it is just 1.86 percent, which is also the second lowest in the last 10 years. The lowest was in 2012-13, when the allocation stood at Rs 25,539 crore, which was just 1.81 percent of the total expenditure that year.

However, this is nothing new in India. As per data, India's health and family care allocations have on an average always remained a low 1.96 percent of the total expenditure over the last 10 years (without taking into account the 20 percent cut in 2014-15). Next year's allocation is lower than this 10-year average.

"Good health is a necessity for both quality of life, and a person’s productivity and ability to support his or her family. Providing medical services in each village and city is absolutely essential," the finance minister said in his budget speech.

Clearly, he actions do not support his words fully.

Data by Kishor Kadam

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Updated Date: Mar 02, 2015 09:07:47 IST

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