The Union Budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022 was released today by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. This Budge is the first digital paperless Budget.
On paper, the Budget does promise positive growth and development, but there is a need to look at it further, especially the policies that will impact the youth and affect our future.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, the capitalist healthcare system has been left brutally exposed, and its inadequacies were felt by the huge death toll worldwide. Perhaps in response to this, the Budget speech began with a promise for greater spending on public healthcare.
Nirmala Sitharaman said, “A new centrally sponsored scheme, PM AtmaNirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana, will be launched with an outlay of about 64,180 crores over six years. This will develop capacities of primary, secondary, and tertiary care Health Systems, strengthen existing national institutions and create new institutions, to cater to detection and cure of new and emerging diseases.”
The government failed on its 2014 promise to start a number of new AIIMS.
This was followed by a detailed explainer of how this money will be spent, with more than 28,000 urban and rural health and wellness centers promised, establishing critical care hospitals in 602 districts and 12 central institutions, and strengthening of the National Centre For Disease Control (NCDC) among other initiatives.
Now, while on paper, if this is followed through, it would make India’s public healthcare sector miles better than what it is now. However, while looking at the Budget, one also has to look at the history of the NDA government in implementing healthcare policies.
Two instances stand out when one has to critically look at the BJP and healthcare. The first of course is their promise to start 13 new AIIMS. A promise that they made when they came to power in 2014. A reality check via an RTI in 2018 showed that not even one had been started. As of today, a paltry number of AIIMS have been completed, and many of them were approved before the BJP came into power.
From more recent memory comes Dr. Anoop Saraya, a doctor from AIIMS who slammed how BJP handled the pandemic and also how they set up on medical and scientific advisory groups.
He wrote in a letter “The success of any advisory group of scientists depends on a culture of openness, independence, and diversity of opinion. Unfortunately, this culture of openness has been conspicuous by its absence when it comes to the government’s scientific advisory bodies on the pandemic, perhaps because most of them comprise government employees.”
On paper, what the Budget suggests for healthcare is very strong, and would go a long way in absorbing health crises in the future, but it all depends on the implementation.
One area that the government should be commended on is their proactive role to help budding entrepreneurs and those entering the workforce. The Budget lays out many different incentives and schemes for start-ups in India.
The government extended several exemptions for start-ups and one-person companies.
The first of which is the extension of the eligibility to apply for Tax-holiday for start-ups, which was extended till 31st March 2022. Nirmala Sitharaman also proposed to extend capital gains exemption to start-ups till the aforementioned date.
The Ministry of Micro, Small, And Medium Enterprises (MSME)’s allocation was doubled. The government also declared a reduction in margin money requirement from 25% to 15%. This is the percentage that the firm owner has to put in of their own money. The government also made it much easier to start one-person companies.
The government also promised inclusive development, with minimum wages applying to all categories of workers and women to be allowed to work in all categories with adequate protection. However, here lies a problem because the government is simultaneously promising better conditions for the workers while eradicating worker’s rights.
Education is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the Budget for the youth, in the backdrop of the NEP 2020. The budget speech promises qualitative strengthening of 15,000 schools, as well as the set up of 100 new Sainik schools.
A central University in Leh, implementation of the NEP, as well as enhancement of the Central Assistance to Scheduled Castes students.
Here, the need for discussion goes beyond whether it will be implemented or not, but what will happen when it is implemented. The improvement and addition of universities and schools will only make education more accessible and is a positive move.
However, the NEP will only lead to a weakening of institutions, privatization of higher education, as well as making higher education exclusionary. Many students, professors, and eminent figures in higher education have spoken out against the NEP’s design of handing Public universities over to private players.
Enhancement of the Central assistance to Scheduled Caste students is good on paper, but one needs to consider that institutional murders of Rohith Vermula, Aishwarya Reddy, and many others were not because of a lack of funds on the institute’s side, but deep-rooted casteism and malaise that ensured these funds never reached their rightful recipients.
The budget promised qualitative improvement in 15,000 schools as prescribed by the NEP.
It becomes a duty of the government to root out the casteism prevalent in all major institutes, but seeing the nature of this government, perhaps that is doubtful. Hence, the responsibility once again falls on the progressive youth to ensure that these funds are used correctly and to battle the caste discrimination prevalent in every major institute.
Climate is a central issue for the youth of India, as it directly links to the condition of our country and the future that we will inherit. Here is probably where the government lacks completely. The usage of the word ‘lack’ stems from the fact that the Budget did not mention climate protection even once.
There was one mention of renewable energy, and that was the increase in duties for solar energy products to “encourage domestic production.” What is further deadly for the environment in terms of deforestation and displacement are the seven major expressways/corridors.
What makes these even more dangerous is the weakening of environmental laws and the new Environmental Assessment Impact, which will provide more leeway to corporates to exploit the environment.
In conclusion, the Budget comes with its own positives and negatives, but it is simply a blueprint for the future. Where the real crux of the situation lies is how the government will implement it, and whether this implementation will be successful and sustainable.