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View from India: World’s largest government-funded health protection scheme launched

Arun Jaitley, the finance minister presented the Union Budget 2018-2019 in Parliament on February 1. Key takeaways point towards boosting the agricultural sector, along with a transformative thrust towards healthcare and education sectors in the country.

Jaitley’s speech carried the promise of reducing poverty, expediting infrastructure creation and building a strong, confident and a New India. “The Indian economy has performed very well since our Government took over in May 2014. India has achieved an average growth of 7.5 per cent in first three years of our Government. The Indian economy is now 2.5 trillion dollar economy - seventh largest in the world. India is expected to become the fifth largest economy very soon. On purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, we are already the third largest economy,” he said.

One of the highlights of Budget 2018 is a National Health Protection Scheme to cover 10 crore poor families, making it the world’s largest government-funded health-protection scheme. Under the government-led flagship programme, approximately 50 crore beneficiaries will be provided coverage up to Rs 5 lakh per family, per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation.

Apart from that, a sum of Rs 1,200 crore has been allocated towards the establishment and upkeep of Health and Wellness Centres. The National Health Policy 2017 has envisioned Health and Wellness Centres as the foundation of India’s health system. These 1.5 lakh centres aim to provide comprehensive health care, including for non-communicable diseases and maternal and child health services. These centres will also provide free essential drugs and diagnostic services.

An interesting twist to the health trail is a proposal to upgrade the district hospitals into medical colleges. It’s intended to set up 24 new government medical colleges and hospitals by upgrading the existing district hospitals in the country. Through this initiative, it is hoped that there is at least one medical college for every three parliamentary constituencies and at least one government medical college in every state of the country.

This and many more such initiatives reinforce the fact that healthy citizens are crucial for India to realize its demographic dividend.

“We welcome the clear thrust on infrastructure that this budget has proposed. Addition of new smart cities and a higher allocation for such projects along with emphasis on niche technologies and the Digital India drive are also welcome,” said Dr Rishi Mohan Bhatnagar, president, Aeris India, and chairperson of The IET’s IoT panel for India.

“I was expecting a reduction in tax on hardware from 18 per cent to 5 per cent and a move towards rationalising spectrum license fees for promoting IoT adoption in the country,” he added. “High capital investment requirement could slow down the IoT adoption momentum in our country and decelerate its evolution as an enabler for various Digital India programs.”

If we were to go by the GDP growth, which is 6.3 per cent in the second quarter, then it is indicative of a turnaround of the economy. “We hope to grow at 7.2 per cent to 7.5 per cent in the second half. IMF, in its latest update, has forecast that India will grow at 7.4 per cent next year,” Jaitley said. The manufacturing sector is back on a good growth path. The services, which are the mainstay of the growth, have also resumed their high growth rates of 8 per cent. The exports are expected to grow at 15 per cent in 2017-18. The progress in various sectors shows that the country is moving towards achieving a high growth of 8 per cent or more.

The agriculture segment has been covered holistically. In its effort to promote agriculture and improve income levels of farmers, the Budget has proposed a scheme titled Operation Greens. Backed by a budgetary sum of Rs 500 crore, Operation Greens will promote Farmer Producers Organisations (FPOs), agri-logistics, processing facilities and facilitate a professional management approach in its operations.

Another such effort is the development and improvement of the existing 22,000 rural haats (an open air market which is a trading platform for local people in rural areas) into electronically linked Gramin Agricultural Markets (GrAMs) to facilitate farmers to sell directly to consumers and bulk purchasers. Understandably so, as over 86 per cent of our farmers are small and marginal and are not in a position to transact directly in markets.

An Agri-Market Infrastructure Fund with a corpus of Rs 2,000 crore will be set up for developing and upgrading agricultural marketing infrastructure in the 22,000 GrAMs and 585 Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMCs). All this is in sync with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to double farmers' income by 2022, the 75th year of India’s Independence. And with the liberalisation of exports of agri commodities being announced in the Budget, the agriculture stocks including that of agro chemical companies have gone up.

“Budget 2018 is overall positive and ‘common man centric’ with clear boost to rural, health and insurance sector. Measures like Minimum Support Price at 1.5 x the cost of produce and Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Bima Yojana extended to all poor families will be key drivers to this effect,” said CP Gurnani, managing director and CEO, Tech Mahindra. “The proposal to reduce corporate tax to 25 per cent for MSMEs is also encouraging for the economy. ​The measure of standard deduction for salaried tax payers to INR 40,000 would be overall positive, as long as deficit target of 3.3 per cent for FY 2019 is met. ​While there is no direct benefit for larger corporations, robustness in the general economy will flow into the ecosystem.”

Specific to the IT industry, the steps taken to strengthen the presence of fintech in the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) space and the plans for smart cities, such as smart city command centres, smart roads and solar power, shows that the country is on its way to achieving its goal of being a trillion-dollar digital economy by 2025.

Anil Valluri, President, NetApp India & SAARC, felt India’s Budget FY18 is a continued thrust on transformation. “The last few years have seen large initiatives designed to bring about substantive change. The FY18 budget marks time, with its particular focus on agriculture, healthcare and infrastructure and the continued thrust on the MSME segment.

“The focus on wide-scale broadband access, on machine learning, AI and robotics, on R&D as well as skilling, and on smart cities will keep pushing India’s digital agenda, well supported by the additional fund allocation. It is a quietly progressive budget and timed well to focus on readying all cross sections of Indian society to reap the benefits of the future.”

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