2020 was a war for survival. A year when people were re-assessing how they live their lives, with both health and livelihood at stake. In that context, what do numbers really mean to the common man, to the farmer, to the man on the street? In a country where agriculture contributes to 50% of the workforce and 18% of the GDP, and services contributes 55% to the GDP, are those who work in these sectors really concerned about V and K? Do they understand what the implications are of a fiscal deficit of 9.5%, being controlled to 6.8%? What does the devolution of tax between the centre and states mean to them? Somewhere between the alphabets and the numbers, the real challenge for the government was to make the Budget real for India, to propose measures that translate to jobs, income, and food.
Against this backdrop, it was commendable that the spirit of self-reliance or ‘Aatmanirbharta’ runs through Budget 2021. In difficult circumstances, the Hon’ble Finance Minister has ensured that the resilience shown by the people of India in these trying times is given its due in the Budget.
This resilience is visible in the green shoots that the economy has been showing in the last few months. GST collections in the month of January exceeded that of pre-Covid-19 levels to touch an all-time high of ₹1.2 lakh crore. The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) and eight-core index indicated a V-shaped recovery towards the pre-crisis levels.
It is visible in the launch of two Made-in-India Covid-19 vaccines, first among few in the world to be available. In fact, one of these is the pride of the country, indigenously developed and a product of Indian research and knowledge.
It is visible in the mammoth vaccination programme that is being carried out in phases successfully across the country. It is visible in the success of the testing, tracking, tracing, and treating approach that has shown results with active Covid-19 cases showing a downward trend.
Against this backdrop, it is indeed heartening that the Budget moves to address the health of the economy with proposals that will restore confidence across the spectrum, from individuals to small and big businesses. Resting on six pillars that include Health and Well-being, Infrastructure, Inclusive Development, Human Capital, Innovation, and R&D, and Minimum Government & Maximum Governance, Budget 2021 puts India firmly back on the path to growth.
Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organization had said, “Health investment is the smartest investment—it pays off.” It is indeed gratifying that the Budget 2021 recognises the importance of the health sector for a stable, growing economy, and the necessity to invest in health for economic development as well as reaching the sustainable development goals. Health with its impact on employment, productivity, and household income is critical to drive inclusive and equitable development.
The government has always kept health at the centre of its proposals even in its earlier Budgets and Budget 2021 sees the government putting its money where its mouth is. With a 137% increase over the previous year in the budgetary allocation for Health and Wellness to ₹2,23,846 crore, the Budget will position India strongly for a transformation of the economy.
Another appreciable highlight of this Budget is the holistic approach to health that it has taken. The focus is not just on curative, but also on the preventive and well-being aspects of health. Prevention and well-being are crucial if we are to successfully face the rising tide of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that are projected to cost the world $47 trillion in lost economic output by 2030. The Budget implements this through the Prime Minster’s Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana with an outlay of ₹64,180 crore over the next six years.
With investment in Health and Wellness Centres in rural and urban centres, integrated health labs connected through an expansion of the health information portal, and health emergency operation centres, the PM Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana will ensure that a strong first line of defence is formed against non-communicable and lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and mental illnesses. This will ensure that NCDs are diagnosed at an early stage when it can be stopped in its tracks or even reversed through appropriate lifestyle changes. These steps will go a long way in ensuring ‘Health for All’ and ‘Universal Health Coverage’.
Budget 2021 promotes and encourages self-reliance with proposals that carry forward the ‘ease of doing business’ agenda of the government. It balances duty hikes to support Make in India in some sectors such as textiles and solar energy with encouragement of overseas investments in areas such as insurance and infrastructure where best practices and technology would make a positive difference. A revised customs duty structure, free from distortions, to be effective from October 2021, and increased transparency in the tax system, with faceless assessments, will also help to create a real 'ease of doing business' on the ground.
This government was faced with an unprecedented challenge with Covid-19. It is to be congratulated on a job well done in handling the pandemic—be it the enforcement of lockdowns, flattening the curve, supporting indigenous vaccine manufacturing, ensuring free vaccines for all Indians, and overseeing an economic recovery. With this Budget, the government has continued to do what is good for India. Now, its up to the private sector and the public to make it great.