Union Budget strikes a balance between social prudence and spending: Social Sector

“Four years ago, we pledged to the people of India to give this nation an honest, clean and transparent Government. We promised to reduce poverty, expedite infrastructure creation and build a strong, confident and a New India.” This is how our Finance Minister opened his speech for Budget 2018-19.

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NEW DELHI: This year, the budget, indeed has much in store for reducing inequalities in India. Many of the schemes and initiatives were addressed to the people living under poverty and, for women and children. In fact, the government had already set the tone, when it announced the Economic Survey 2017-18. It had clearly indicated that it planned to focus on consolidating and mending the social infrastructure of the nation.

To this effect, the government set aside Rs. 1.38 lakh crore for outlay on health, education and social protection.

Anuja Bansal, Secretary General, SOS Children’s Villages of India, said, “The Union Budget 2018-19, strikes a balance between social prudence and spending.  The rolling of incentives for the health, education and women welfare issues will surely usher a new era for the socio-development sector in India.”

For health, FM announced the world’s largest government funded health care programme – National Health Protection Scheme. The Scheme will cover around 50 crore beneficiaries, providing coverage upto Rs. 5 lakh, per family, per year, for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization.

In addition to this, he also committed Rs 1200 crore for the National Health Policy, 2017, under which the government plans to set up 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres. The government also announced setting up of 24 new government medical colleges and hospitals by upgrading the existing district hospitals in the country.

“Unprecedentedly, India has rolled out the world’s largest government funded healthcare programme with Rs 5 lakh annual cover per family for 10 crore poor families. This is a big step towards bringing inclusive health care in the country and will, in turn, help in boosting economic growth,” Bansal added.

On the education front, the government assured quality education for tribal children, in their own environment, with special facilities for preserving local art and culture besides providing training in sports and skill development.

“We are also glad to know that to increase the digital intensity in education, Rs. 1 lakh crore is allocated to revitalise and upgrade education sector, which can contribute immensely in building a robust socio-economic infrastructure,” said Bansal. “These incentives will also mean that care for the parentless and abandoned children will gain momentum; we are firm in our resolve to serve for the cause,” she added.

It was also encouraging to know that loans to women self-help groups are expected to increase to 75,000 crore by FY 2018-19. This clearly indicates that women are feeling empowered and confidently participating in decision making role in the areas of family planning, children’s marriage, buying and selling property, and sending their children to school.

Welcoming Government’s support towards the maternal healthcare sector, Dr. Aparajita Gogoi, Executive Director, Centre for Catalyzing Change, said, “The decision of the government’s Ayushman Bharat Program of increasing availability of drugs and diagnostics to reach all 1.5 lakh health centres will be of benefit to women. Childbearing women need to often pay out of pocket for these services in case they are not available. With better availability of drugs and diagnostics and general investment of 1200 crore to overall healthcare is bound to raise demand for services. It is hoped that these monitoring investments will lead to overall improvement in the quality of maternal and child health services and lower Infant Mortality Rate and maternal mortality rate, so that we meet SDG 3.2 in the near future.”

However, sharing slight disappointment, Komal Ganotra, the Director of Policy Advocacy and Research at CRY – Child Rights and You, said, “This Union Budget has prioritized social sectors including health and education, with grand announcements by the FM Arun Jaitley such as National Health Protection Scheme and RISE initiative for Higher Education. However, the same does not hold true for India’s 472 million children. The total Budget for Children remains stagnant at 3.23% with 79088 crore allocated for children over last year’s allocation of 71305 crore (an 11% increase).”

“The Finance Minister categorically recognised the need for moving towards achieving quality education as well as strengthening inclusion in public education through increased numbers of Eklavya schools. Also with the allocation of 2925 crores, the National Nutrition Mission seems to have taken off which is a positive indication. What is crucial here is that a vision for transforming the currently restrictive child protection framework and budgetary allocations for the same seems to be missing,” Ganotra added.

India is at the cusp of global attention in terms of social indicators and development. The budget has definitely laid the foundation for rolling of the incentives, however much is required in terms of filling existing gaps and also, implementation of the announced programmes.

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