Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget has vastly increased spending for healthcare in the next financial year, but a closer look at the budget document shows that some of it has been achieved by clubbing the outlay for health ministry with that of schemes from other ministries.
In light of the pandemic that put immense pressure on the healthcare system, all eyes were on the Union Budget 2021 with hopes for a bigger allocation for the Health Ministry.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday allocated a budget of Rs 2,23,846 crore in budget estimate of 2021-22, as against the 2020-2021 budget estimate of Rs 94,452 crore — a whopping overall increase of 137 per cent. It included Rs 35,000 crore for immunisation with Covid-19 vaccines.
Sitharaman underlined that the government will take a “holistic approach” this time by strengthening three critical areas - preventive health, curative health and well-being.
Out of the sum of Rs 2.23 lakh crore, the budget for the health ministry stands at Rs 71,269 crores, a sum higher than the budget estimate of last year, but lower than the revised estimates of 2020-21, mainly because of the increased spending due to Covid-19. The budget allocation for the health ministry last year was Rs 67,112 crore, but the ministry ended up spending Rs 78,866 crore.
The Rs 2.23 lakh crore outlay for health and well-being will include expenditure on six components in varying proportions — Department of Health & Family Welfare (31.83 per cent) with finance commission grant (5.89 per cent), Department of Drinking Water & Sanitation (26.81 per cent) with finance commission grant (16.09 per cent), vaccination (15.63 per cent), health research (1.89 per cent), Ministry of AYUSH (1.32 per cent), and, nutrition (1.20 per cent).
Sitharaman said that Rs 64,180 crore would be allocated to the new scheme PM Atma Nirbhar Swastha Bharat Yojna with an outlay of six years. This implied that each year an additional Rs 10,000 crores will be pumped in the health sector. It will be implemented in addition to the National Health Mission and will provide support for 17,788 rural and 11,024 urban health and wellness centres — developing the capacities of primary, secondary, and tertiary care health systems.
“It will strengthen existing national institutions, and create new institutions to cater to detection and cure of new and emerging diseases,” Sitharaman said in her speech.
The government added that the allocation will also be utilised in supporting health and wellness centres, setting up of integrated public health laboratories, establishing critical care hospitals and for strengthening the National Centre for Disease Control.
The departments which received an enormous boost of 179 per cent is the drinking water and sanitation, while the allocation for health and family welfare increased by 9.62 percent. However, nutrition witnessed a drop of 27 per cent.
Dr Sakthivel Selvaraj, director of the Health Economics, Financing and Policy, Public Health Foundation of India said, “The major intervention which happened and which was well-needed is Rs 35,000 crore for Covid-19 vaccination and we welcome it. Leaving this aside, the allocations have been modest. The only silver lining in addition to vaccination is allocation of additional around Rs 12-13,000 crore as the Finance Commission Grant.”
Welcoming the government’s allocation, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said, “The experiences of the country’s yearlong fight with Covid have shaped the Union Budget. This will give a tremendous boost to India’s health infrastructure. Investment on Health Infrastructure in Budget 2021 has increased 2.37 times or 137 per cent.”
Meanwhile, the allocation for the health research department which includes ICMR has also been increased from Rs 2,100 crore last year to Rs 2,663 crores for 2021-22. As compared to 2020-21, the allocation to PMJAY, which includes Ayushman Bharat and health and wellness centres was worth Rs 6,400 crore and the budget has remained unchanged for this financial year.