Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government’s maiden budget hasn’t received a positive response, with civil society groups expressing their disapproval of the budget. Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), Rajasthan chapter of People’s Health Movement have called the state’s health budget ‘Rhetoric Galore, Nothing New to Offer.’
In a press statement released on July 15, JSA stated that the state health budget announced by the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on July 10 didn’t have anything to offer in real terms. It stated that the overall allocation to medical, health and family welfare for this fiscal year of Rs. 13038.60 crores up from Rs. 12163.41 crores, which is equivalent to a rise by 7.2%, is negligible if inflation is taken into account. It stated, “In fact, if we do a deeper analysis taking inflation into account this rise can only be taken as a customary mount which is utterly negligible and would barely mean anything in terms of increase in per capita expenditure on health or its share in state’s GDP.”
Strikingly, there has been a reduction in the constitution of the medical, health and family welfare budget as a proportion of the entire budget when compared to the previous fiscal year. In the current fiscal year, the health budget constitutes 5.97% of the total budget while in the previous year it constituted 6.16%. This reduction is “really problematic and alarming.” Concerned over this reduction, the statement read, “This slash indicates a clear undermining of health as a priority of the government and a total denial of the very need for intensifying health budgets so as to strengthen an already severely undernourished public health care system.”
Further, the statement mentions that surprisingly there is no specific budget allocation for ‘Janta Clinics’, despite the CM announcing its plan to form such clinics, in line with the famed ‘Mohalla Clinics’ in Delhi. The statement read, “With no clarity about the budgetary provisions for its operationalisation, this announcement sounds more like a hollow promise than anything significant..” Also, to one’s surprise, there was not even a single mention or reference to the much-awaited Right to Health Act in the entire budget speech of the CM, despite it being one of the major promises made by the Congress in its 2018 state election manifesto. Notably, the Rajasthan unit of JSA had submitted a draft bill to the state government after which multiple consultations were held but there hasn’t been any progress in the legislative assembly on the same.
Further, there has been a slash in the expenditure on the state’s health insurance scheme, Bhamashah Swasthya Bima Yojana which was formulated by the previous BJP government. Unfortunately, only Rs. 631 crores have been allocated for this scheme which had an allocation of Rs. 1491 crores during the BJP rule in the state. This might be an indication that the state may soon merge the scheme with centre’s Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Bima Yojana (PMJAY) which would have centre and state contribution in 60:40 ratio. This merger was also hinted at by the Health Minister, Raghu Sharma, in one of his statements given to the media last month. The free medicines and free diagnostics schemes, both started by the Congress during its last tenure in power in the state, were expected to receive huge boosts this fiscal year. However, the budgets for both the schemes have almost remained the same. In fact, the estimated budget for free medicines scheme this year is slightly less as compared to previous year, with an allocation of Rs. 556.43 crores announced this year as opposed to Rs. 557.09 crores last year. The budget for free diagnostic scheme saw a slight increase from Rs. 185.39 crores announced last year to about Rs. 222.16 crores this fiscal. However, the increase is quite insignificant.
Disheartened by the Rajasthan government’s budget allocation for the health sector, the JSA press statement reads, “Overall, the health budget announced this fiscal is no different than the budgets previously announced and brings about nothing significant to look forward to in terms of health systems strengthening. The budget lacks focus and commitment, does not align with the promises made in the manifesto and yet again leaves public health sector starving for adequate resources.”