India Celebrated its ‘Constitution Day’ on November 26 this year, as the Constitution of the country was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949, which came into force on January 26,1950.
On November 27, 2015, while addressing the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “If Constitution simply becomes a document to be followed by the Government then democracy will suffer, that’s why it needs to reach the roots.”
The Prime Minister also said, “It is important to strengthen rights and it is as important to strengthen duties.”
Looking at this laudable vision of Prime Minister Modi from the health care perspective, one finds that Indian Constitution also guarantees the ‘Right to Life’ to every Indian citizen.
This prompts two important questions:
- Has this specific ‘Constitutional Right’ – ‘‘Right to Life’, been upheld by any Government of our country, as on date, in its letter and spirit?
- Has this specific Constitutional Guarantee ‘reached the roots,” as the Prime Minister expects?
A search for answers to these questions gets even more complicated, when one finds that health care, which is so fundamental for human ‘life’, besides driving the economic prosperity of any nation, is getting continuously neglected, even when the Prime Minister is reaching out to all, in pursuit of economic prosperity for the nation.
Better late than never:
As the Indian Parliament has taken a fresh vow in the current Winter Session to follow all the Constitutional provisions unhindered, I sincerely hope that the Union Budget 2016-17 would reflect some road map to uphold this important Constitutional Guarantee provided to all the citizens of India.
If it truly happens, everybody would applaud the Government, in the right spirit of the good old dictum – it is ‘better late than never’.
What has the ‘Right to Life’ got to do with the Union Budget?
Yes, it is indeed a valid question, as what I am saying is a policy matter and is intimately related to ‘The National Health Policy of India”.
As we know, a new draft of the ‘National Health Policy’ was prepared by the incumbent Government in 2015 for public discourse. However, the same has not been adopted, just yet.
Nevertheless, that’s not the reason why I am raising this issue in my pre-budget (2016-17) expectations. My argument is, any policy has to be supported by adequate financial commitment and that gets reflected in the Union Budget.
Repetition of the Union Finance Minister’s assertion on health care funding even for the next financial year, just what he did while presenting the Union Budget 2015-16, would no longer suffice, especially after the PM’s ‘Constitution Day’ speech.
Last year the FM had said that health care being a state subject, respective State Governments would make required financial allocations to address health related issues of the states.
Trying to substantiate his point the minister said, following the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, the Government has raised the States’ share in the net proceeds of union tax revenues from 32 per cent to 42 per cent.
In my view, not much progress in healthcare, pan India, can be expected with this approach of the Union Government. To implement the same robust ‘National Health Policy’ across the country effectively, the Central Government would require to work with the State Governments shoulder to shoulder in this regard and support them with all necessary resources.
Three fundamental pre-requirements:
I reckon, there are three fundamental pre-requirements to translate this specific Constitutional Guarantee into reality:
- A robust “National Health Policy” should be put in place well before the Union Budget 2016-17, clearly charting a road map for health care in India. Going by the Prime Minister’s reported obsession on the speed of any decision making by his ministers, I hope, the ‘Health Policy’ rollout would commence soon.
- Prioritizing from this policy, the Central and the State Governments together should identify specific health projects, based on majority of citizen’s immediate health needs, for joint implementation.
- Allocate appropriate financial resources in both the Union and State Budgets for their speedy implementation, fixing accountability and commensurate reward to bring all these initiatives to fruition, ahead of schedule.
My expectations on health care from the budget:
With the above backdrop, my overall expectations on health care allocations in 2016-17 Union Budget proposals are as follows:
- Increase total public health expenditure from the current 1.2 percent to at least 2.0 percent of the GDP and then raise it 2.5 percent over a period of next three years.
- The main source of financing for public health should remain general taxation by levying ‘Health Cess’, quite in line with with ‘Swachh Bharat Cess’ at the rate of 0.5 percent on all taxable services, besides adding a similar tax on non-essential and luxury items.
The key resource allocation would, at least, be in the following five key areas:
A. Infrastructure and capacity building:
- Focused and well-identified investments in building high quality public health infrastructure and well-skilled human resources for rural India on priority.
- Villages, based on population, would be identified by the respective State Governments.
B. Increasing access to quality public health care:
- Free universal access to primary care services to start with, across the country,
- Free drugs, free diagnostics and free emergency care services in all public hospitals of the country and for all.
- Free emergency response and patient-transport systems across the country, for all.
C. Strengthening the supply chain:
- Quality drug and diagnostics procurement system by the Central Medical Services Society (CMSS) of the Government needs to be modernized, strengthened and made more efficient with real time data, for easy availability of all required drugs and diagnostics in all public hospitals at the right time and in the right quantity.
- Today, many life saving drugs and diagnostics are highly temperature sensitive. Thus, adequate cold chain facilities are to be created right from transportation to storage in public hospitals for all such products, maintaining their required efficacy and safety standards for patients.
D. Increasing awareness for disease prevention:
- Intensive multi-pronged, multi-channel and door to door campaigns by the para-medics to increase awareness for identified disease prevention.
E. Performance incentive:
- To achieve the desired level of success and increase the motivation level in a sustainable way, budgetary provisions to be made for a system of well-structured individual and team performance incentive scheme, when the key implementers exceed expectations by achieving the set goals well before schedule.
- Commensurate punitive measures for failure also to be put in place, simultaneously.
I would not broach upon the area of Research and Development (R&D) for drugs and diagnostics here, as that could probably be considered in a holistic way under overall innovation, science and technology budget allocation required for the country, as a whole.
I sincerely hope and am also reasonably confident that all these would feature in the final version of the new “National Health Policy” of India. Hence, I have not suggested anything radically different from what the Government is currently mulling.
Thus, when my pre-budget (2016-17) expectations on health care, are read in conjunction with exactly what the PM has recently vowed on following the Constitution of India, and the criticality of taking it to the national grassroots level, it appears obligatory for the Finance Minister to ‘walk the line’, as drawn by the PM himself.
The Constitution of India guarantees ‘right to life’ for all, even in sickness.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.