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Budget 2018: Budget for health, education: Challenge to walk the talk

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NEW DELHI: One of the highlights of Budget 2018 is the flagship National Health Protection Scheme, aimed at providing coverage of up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year to 10 crore families. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley while the delivering Budget speech waxed eloquent in Sanskrit–
Sarve Bhavantu Sukhina, Sarve Santu Niramaya

to claim that the scheme is expected to aid almost 50 crore people. Jaitley went on to say that the government is progressing towards the goal of universal health coverage.

The government has, without doubt, shown a lot of zest towards healthcare in the budget speech. In fact, on Thursday, the word ‘health’ was mentioned the most number, when compared to all the previous Budget speeches since independence.

However, the key lies in these words translating into action and implementation on the ground. To be sure, the increase in allocation towards healthcare is a minuscule 2.76 per cent compared to last year’s budget. In fact, just 2.2 per cent of the total spending in budget is towards healthcare. Thus, even as the government vows to set up 1.5 lakh Health and Wellness centres and 24 new government medical colleges and hospitals, the gap between the talk and the walk seems wide.

As with health, it is imperative that the government focus on education for India to mature into a superpower in the days to come. However, in this year’s budget, education seems to be faced with the same kind of predicament as health. Mr. Jaitley has made a record mention of the word ‘education’, just like he has with health.

In his speech, Jaitley said that the government has amended the Right to Education Act to enable more than 13 lakh untrained teachers to get trained. In a fresh initiative, the government proposed to launch ‘Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022’ with a total investment of Rs 1 lakh crore in next four years, to step up investments in research and related infrastructure in premier educational institutions, including health institutions.

But mirroring healthcare, the spending on education too, cuts a rather sorry figure. A modest 3.84 per cent increase compared to last year can be seen in the education sector allotment. Moreover, even after the increase, the total spending on education amounts to just 3.48 per cent of the total spending.

The government has increased the Health and Education Cess in this budget to 4 per cent from the existing 3 per cent. The finance minister hopes to earn Rs 11,000 crore as a result of the tweak. The litmus test for the government, however, will be to spend this corpus effectively.

Updated: February 1, 2018 — 2:15 pm

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