Initiatives will go a long way to improve India - The focus on rural economy and farmer’s welfare in 2016-17 Union budget presented by the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley indicate a major shift in Modi government’s policy approach towards the poor. Twenty five years after India’s economic reforms programme got going in 1991 Arun Jaitley, the finance minister has effected tectonic shift in the budget by shifting he discourse, and thereby, the reforms momentum, to rural Bharat that is now called India
With a specific focus on improving the livelihood of the rural population, the Union Budget announced three focused social initiatives which would go a long way in creating an educated, healthier and, thereby, a stronger India. The government aims to double income of farmers in five years; launch initiatives to increase irrigation access and skill one crore youth in the next three years. In addition, healthcare finally takes the centre stage in the budget.
The announcement of the health protection scheme of Rs. 1 lakh to cover unforeseen illness in poor families with an additional Rs 30,000 for senior citizens is a long-awaited and welcome step. In addition, the government’s plan to add 3,000 pharmacies under the jan aushadhi yojana to provide generic drugs at affordable rates is a commendable move.
Let me highlight and analyse some of the key points in the budget.
Rural focus: The Budget focuses on developing and prospering the rural part of the nation. While it aims at doubling the income of farmers in next five years, the budget has lined out several welfare and supportive schemes for the farmers. The government plans to bring 28.5 lakh hectares of land under irrigation, introduce four schemes for animal welfare, and has set an agricultural credit target of Rs 9 lakh crore.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley allocated Rs 35,984 crore for agriculture and farmers’ welfare. He also allocated a sum of Rs 38,500 crore for MGNREGA and set a target of 100 per cent village electrification by May 1, 2018. The FM’s focus on rural growth is likely to benefit all the sectors largely dependent on rural consumption.
Education and healthcare: The government allocated Rs 1,000 crore for higher to set up a higher education financing agency, Rs 1,804 crore for skill development, and plans to introduce a digital literacy mission scheme for rural India. It also proposed new health protection scheme, allocated Rs 9,000 crore towards swachch bharat abhiyan, and plans of opening 3,000 stores under prime minister’s jan aushadhi yojana, in FY2017. The government’s allocation for social sector, including healthcare and education, stands at Rs 1,51,581 crore for FY2017. Higher allocation for education and healthcare is positive for education and pharmaceutical sectors.
Apart from the schemes to improve healthcare access, the finance minister also addressed the major issue of skill gaps in the country. Dedicated skilled health personnel are a pre-requisite for efficient and effective delivery of health services. However, the availability of such personnel to meet the needs of the health sector is a huge challenge in India. The shortage of specialists, doctors, staff nurses, anaesthetists, and others, adversely affects the outreach of health services, especially in rural areas, highlights the Economic Survey of last financial year. An evaluation study of the National Rural Health Mission (2011) conducted in seven states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha, assessed the levels of shortfalls in health personnel. While various states reported different levels of shortfalls, Jharkhand had a shortage of 95 per cent skilled health personnel and Madhya Pradesh reported 80 per cent. Moreover, according to the rural health statistics of 2015, at the all-India level, community health centres are short of surgeons by 83 per cent. In order to tackle the skills shortage in the country, the finance minister has announced that the government would provide focus to the higher education segment in the way it has so far boosted primary education.
Some 360 million poor Indians survive on Rs. 47 per day as per Rangrajan Committee estimates. The essential role of the state in creating opportunities for fostering human capabilities in ways those are equitable and empowering. Fundamental to this are health ,education and livelihood .While the Jan Dhan –Aadhar and Mobile or JAM is spoken of as magic trinity ,the real trinity is Health, Education and Livelihood-and in a rural context it needs to expand to mean :Health, Education, Agriculture and Livelihood or HEAL JAM can only be a means to HEAL India.
Of many approaches to transform the lives of people, those that directly impact the lives of the poor are agriculture and farmers welfare, rural employment, and infrastructure, 'health and education and skills’. The Budget 2016-17 recognises that agriculture and farmers welfare are the backbone of country and that they should go beyond food security to income security with an ambition to double farm income by 2020. This should benefit nearly 42 per cent of Indian households dependent on their income from farming.
With right steps in the right direction, the budget is a positive one, which we hope would provide the necessary impetus to growth in the economy.