Budget positive for healthcare, education, startups

Budget positive for healthcare, education, startups

The plan for expansion of Jan Aushadhi Kendras to all districts in the country is expected to improve access to affordable medicines. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons Photo)

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented her Budget against the backdrop of a weakening economy and slowdown in investments and exports. She did well to announce investments in healthcare and education, which will play out in the medium to long-term.

The health and well-being of people play a vital role in economic progress, and it was very good to see that this year’s Budget has taken forward the NDA government’s holistic vision of healthcare that translates into the wellness of the citizen. The rollout of the Ayushman Bharat program in 2018 by the NDA government was a big step towards introducing universal healthcare coverage in our country. This year’s Budget has attempted to build on it.

Positive for healthcare

The expansion of health infrastructure in tier II and III cities via a public-private partnership (PPP) model and upskilling of health workers is expected to strengthen the Ayushman Bharat program.

Also, the adoption of digital technologies such as Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in the Ayushman Bharat program is likely to significantly help in improving disease management and prevention in the long run.

Immunisation is an important aspect of preventive healthcare and the government’s decision to include five new vaccines and expand the number of diseases in the Indradhanush scheme to 12 shows the commitment of the government towards increasing immunization coverage in India.

The plan for expansion of Jan Aushadhi Kendras to all districts in the country is expected to improve access to affordable medicines.

The government has also tried to address the critical issue of shortage of qualified medical doctors in India by proposing the setting up of medical colleges with district hospitals under the PPP model.

Healthcare

Although the government has increased the outlay for healthcare by around 10% from last year to Rs 69,000 crore, which includes Rs 6,400 crore for Ayushman Bharat, more funds are needed to address the huge unmet needs of this sector.

Much more needs to be done to build high-quality healthcare infrastructure, and better accessibility and affordability of healthcare facilities, medicines and diagnostics to people.

The government needs to invest much more if it wants to attain the target of healthcare spending reaching 2.5% of GDP by 2025 from about 1% currently.

Education

The allocation of Rs 99,300 crore for education and Rs 3,000 crore for skill development in FY21 is also a welcome step as is the proposal to attract external commercial borrowing and foreign direct investment (FDI) in the education sector.

Helping hand

This Budget offered incentives to strengthen the existing startup ecosystem by increasing the turnover limit for startups to claim tax exemption from Rs 25 crore to Rs 100 crore and for up to a period of 10 years from incorporation as opposed to 7 years earlier. It also recommended a five-year tax holiday on ESOPs.

Investing in innovation

The Budget emphasised on boosting the emerging New Economy by announcing plans to enable the private sector to open data center parks throughout the country, which will enable the incorporation of data in every step of their value chain.

It also announced plans to initiate a national level science scheme to map India’s genetic landscape and create a comprehensive database, which is critical for next-generation medicine, agriculture and biodiversity management.

However, several other specific measures are required to support innovation and address health challenges through biotechnology.

Steps such as development for big data analytics skills for advanced diagnostics, innovation fund for MedTech start-ups to develop low-cost rapid diagnostic tests for rare diseases, creation of virus repository with genomic data, and extension of weighted tax deduction for R&D activities outsourced to laboratories or contract research organisations, should have been considered by the government.

The measures announced in this Budget can give returns in the medium to long-term. However, we need to make sure they are implemented fast to be effective.

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