human rights issues
Union Budget seems to be a pre-election budget
The biggest announcement made on Thursday , the 1st of February 2018 in the Union budget was the ‘new health care scheme,’ announced by the Union Finance Minister Honorable Mr. Arun Jaitley. The Government has promised to provide free medical care of up to Rs.5 lakh each to ten crore poor and vulnerable families. The Finance Minister said that the scheme will be the world’s largest health care program and the Government will make an adequate capital allocation for its implementation. Presenting the fifth straight budget in Lok Sabha, Mr. Jaitley said that the Government will set up twenty four new Government medical colleges and hospitals by upgrading the existing district hospitals in the Country. While the various health goals listed by the Finance Minister is indeed laudable , this budget betrays a complete lack of vision when it comes to actually moving towards the outcome and ensuring health for all. There are some piecemeal measures that have been announced such as converting sub-centers to health and wellness centres, creating two new AIIMS hospitals, creating additional post graduate seats in medical colleges. For instance, while there is a proposal to start two new AIIMS hospitals what about the infrastructure and human resources of the AIIMS hospitals that has been set up in the past. There have been protests by students in AIIMS Bhopal, Jodhpur and Patna regarding the lack of infrastructural facilities for patients, poor academic facilities and shortage of faculty which needs to be addressed urgently if these institutions are to train quality doctors and provide high quality treatment. Similarly, when it comes to health sub-centres , according to the Rural Health Statistics of 2017 brought out by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, less than 14% of the 1.5 lakh health sub-centres in the Country meet the Indian public health standard norms. Additional well-equipped infrastructure, drugs and diagnostics and human resources are needed to ensure health facilities from sub-centre level to hospital level. The National President and International Convener of Human Rights Protection Association, Mr. Shamim Ahmed says that instead of focusing on these basic aspects of providing health care the budget tries to come up with fancy new ideas of setting up new health and wellness centers which might only be something cosmetic. In the last budget a National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) was introduced by the same Finance Minister with great passion. This was basically a revamped Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna with expanded coverage, providing health cover of up to Rs.1 lakh per family but the NHPS did not take off quite well with the Government telling in the Parliament just two months back that “the contours of the scheme are yet to be finalized.” Now we see the Government has proceeded with this hike from Rs.1 lakh to Rs.5 lakh per family. The question that now arises is that how exactly will the Government find the resources to implement this scheme. As stated above, the only line that Mr. Jaitley has said on fund allocation is that ‘adequate funds will be provided for smooth implementation of health care program.’ Mr. Shamim Ahmed says that it would be a wonderful scenario if the Government can offer Rs.5 lakh per family but it seems that this budget too shall die a natural death like the budgets of previous years because by the time the contours of this budget gets implemented it will be time for the upcoming elections of 2019 and the focus will shift there completely thereby neglecting the present budget. The National President of Human Rights Protection Association Mr. Shamim Ahmed also feels that there has not been a single budget in the history of Independent India that has been implemented completely. What needs to be done before presenting the Union Budget before the Nation is that the Central Government in consultation with all the State Governments make arrangements of finances to support each and every clause of the proposed budget so that it can be implemented immediately and the citizens of the Country can reap its benefits. To sum up Mr. Ahmed says that the free health care scheme announced by the Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley is music to the ears of fifty crore poor Indians, the simple reason being that there is no fund allocation mentioned in the budget plan to support this mammoth plan. One will have to wait and watch how the Modi Government is planning to implement this behemoth of a health care scheme.