The government perceives the pandemic to be in retreat, going by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget speech as well as a perusal of the Budget documents. In 2021-22, the Budget documents show, the Centre ended up spending ₹82,920 crore — nearly ₹11,000 crore more — in the last Budget. This was largely in the form of ‘Grant in Aid’ to States.
It proposes to spend around the same — ₹83,000 crore — over the coming financial year. The 2022 Budget estimate is nearly 16% more than the ₹71,000 crore budgeted last year.
Further evidence that COVID-19 is seen as a diminished threat this year comes from allocation to a budgetary head called “India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness” that saw an allotment of ₹12,359 crore last year but has seen zero allocation in the present year.
In her address, however, Ms. Sitharaman stressed on improving access to mental healthcare facilities via telemedicine and digital healthcare facilities. Her speech didn’t mention vaccines, bettering hospitals, improving public health facilities — all major points that found mention in the previous two years.
“I recognise we are in the midst of an Omicron wave, with high incidence but milder symptoms. Further, the speed and coverage of our vaccination campaign has helped greatly. With the accelerated improvement of health infrastructure in the past two years, we are in a strong position to withstand challenges. I am confident that with
Sabka Prayas (everybody’s effort), we will continue our journey of strong growth,” Ms. Sitharaman said in her opening remarks.
As of Monday, India has double vaccinated more than 75% of its eligible population, even as it posted close to 167,000 new cases in the last 24 hours.
While allocations haven’t been hiked, the Centre also expects to spend the same as it did last year on health research. In 2021-22, the Centre alloted ₹2,663 crore for health research but spent ₹3,080 crore. This year, it has budgeted ₹3,200 crore.
The capital expenditure that the Health Ministry expects to make in the coming year is ₹5,632 crore or about ₹1,000 crore less than was spent last year. The Pradhan Mantri Ayushman BharatHealth Infrastructure Mission (PMABHIM) has seen a substantial increase from ₹585 crore last year to ₹4,177 crore this year.
A scheme to improve pandemic preparedness via research and development as well as strengthen “bio security” has also been hiked from ₹140 crore to ₹690 crore.