Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s pandemic budget promised increased spending for healthcare in the next financial year, but the fine print of the budget text shows that the outlay for the healthcare is actually reduced if compared to the revised estimates of 2021.
In her budget speech, the finance minister said the government expected to spend ₹2.23 lakh crore in the coming year on “health and well-being”. This would translate to a 135 per cent increase from last year.
However, the figure also includes Rs 60,030 crore allocation made towards drinking water and sanitation, a Rs 2,700 crore outlay on nutrition, and both of these are handled by separate ministries than health. It also includes Rs 49,000 crore as Finance Commission grants and Rs 35,000 crore toward vaccination programme against Covid-19.
All these have been clubbed together in the “health and well-being” budget to arrive at the more than doubled spending on healthcare. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, giving a thumbs-up to the budget speech, also said it was aimed at creating “wealth and wellness" in the country that has the world’s second highest coronavirus caseload after the United States.
However, public health experts have pointed out that while the budgetary allocation for healthcare sector is an 11 per cent increase if it is compared to the budget estimates for 2021, it translates into a 10 per cent drop in the allocation, if compared to the revised estimated 2021.
“Despite the much-touted emphasis on health, health ministry’s budget has increased only by ₹7000 crore from Budget Estimates of 2020-21 and declined by 9.8 per cent from Revised Estimates of 2020-21," Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India, told Mint.
The allocation towards government’s flagship health insurance scheme - Ayushman Bharat-PM Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) – has remained unchanged at Rs. 6,400 crores this year in Nirmala Sitharaman’s union budget 2021-22. The scheme aims to reduce the out-of-pocket private expenditure on health that has been pushing several people into poverty, especially during and after covid-19 pandemic.
The budget allocation for the Department of Health and Family Welfare is Rs. 71,269 crores, which is an increase of 9.6 per cent over the budget allocation of Rs. 65,012 crores last year. However, this too is lower than the revised estimates for financial year 2020-21 at Rs. 78,866 crores.