Budget 2021: Social sector experts weigh in on their expectations from FM Sitharaman
While India has made significant strides in terms of economic progress, growth in the social sector is yet to keep pace with our GDP progress. Today, India ranks 131 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index, with low levels of healthcare and education.
Expenditure in the social sector has remained stagnant at nearly three percent of the GDP.
Ahead of Budget 2021, we spoke to a few experts in the field of healthcare, education, and rural reform to hear what they expect to bring about a boost in the social sector.
Kamal Narayan Omer, CEO, Integrated Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council
The COVID-19 pandemic has offered us an opportunity to prevent any such outbreak in future and the budgetary allocation for health must reflect that we are serious about the steps needed to reach that level of preparedness. It is time we desilo healthcare as a service provided and look at the various other aspects that impact the need of health services or can impact its efficiency. Apart from increasing the overall share of public spending in healthcare, the health Budget this year must focus on its integrated nature and adequate budgetary allocations must be made for: 1) primary healthcare, especially in rural and remote areas, ensuring trained manpower and diagnostic services, in addition to affordable and accessible secondary and tertiary care 2) preventive healthcare to control the rapid spread of non-communicable diseases and lack of adequate nutrition for the young and vulnerable population, and 3) associated areas such as pollution control measures for air, water, and soil, and strengthening of supply chain, especially for perishable food items.
At the same time, a separate allocation must be made for health communication for behavioural change that will nudge people to adopt healthy and sustainable consumption and behaviour in the medium-to-long run.
Vivek Bindra, Founder and CEO Bada Business
Despite the economic crisis created due to the COVID 19 outbreak, the Indian industry, particularly the MSMEs and startup sectors, have shown remarkable resilience and innovation in overcoming the challenges. Having said this, the government can provide further policy support to tide over the recessionary phase.
Given the fact that this is the first Budget post-COVID-19, the industry is hoping for concrete measures to revive the economy, ways to increase consumer demand particularly in sectors that were hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.
Through the Budget, the government must find ways to infuse more liquidity into the system, leave more money into the hands of consumers, and further ease the process of fund disbursement to MSMEs. As India aspires to become a vishwaguru and one of the engines of the global economy, India’s economic revival is critical to the global economy as well.
Over the past year, the government has created hope in the economy through its Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative that seeks to boost local manufacturing and production. The manufacturing sector needs significant policy support if it is to attract a chunk of manufacturing projects moving out of China. The government must create a competitive tariff structure that favours imports of raw materials over imports of finished goods.
It must also find ways to boost a wave of new micro enterprises in rural India to create more employment opportunities outside agriculture. Building the entrepreneurial capability of rural youth through business training, easing the norms to start businesses, and creating a fast loan disbursement mechanism for micro enterprises in villages can help infuse a new entrepreneurial energy in villages.
It is high time that the GST structure is made less complex and ease of taxation is improved particularly for MSMEs to make tax compliance easier and simpler.
Nikky Gupta, Co-founder and Director, Teamwork Communication Group
In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the importance of providing affordable and accessible healthcare has become a critical requirement for the wellbeing of people. This necessitates the healthcare sector be accorded the status of a priority sector, unlike all these years, and enable access to funds as well as tax incentives to improve the affordability of care.
India must allocate more funds to generate awareness about non-communicable diseases in people and induce behaviour change in order to control it. A focused approach for rapidly spreading non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes will go a long way to control both morbidity and mortality.
Rustom Kerawalla, Chairperson, Ampersand Group
As the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is hoped that the Budget 2021 kickstarts the economy while boosting expenditure on education and healthcare infrastructure. In this regard, the government could plan to forego fiscal restraints and increase capital expenditure in these particular sectors.
There should be transparency and accountability in every rupee spent on education and ensure equitable distribution of funds. It is expected that the Budget should look at boosting private investments and give a fillip to avenues of employment generation.
The focus should be on upgrading the basic infrastructure and digitalisation of educational institutions, measures to encourage student retention, and comprehensive teacher training programmes to remain updated with global learning standards.
Positive learning from the pandemic indicates that there should be a significant allocation of funds to online education, affordable digital devices, and should be complemented with high-speed internet access to the remotest parts of India.
The Budget should also look into resource building and improve the teacher-student ratio as nearly 250 million students are expected to enrol in schools by 2030, which would need 7.5 million highly trained teachers to address the massive student population."
Reeta Sonawat, Member of Advisory Council, Association of Indian Schools
Studies of the cost and benefits conducted by the United States show that the returns to investment are very positive in early childhood care and education programmes. It is said that every dollar spent on early childhood education generates $4 benefits.
We need to support schools, NGOs, and voluntary organisations so others will also benefit and they can teachers for quality education, which is the mandate of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.
Sudhir Sharma, Member of Advisory Council, Association of Indian Schools
Online teaching and learning is a new reality, and many organisations have invested time, money, and resources to deliver quality education to students: the government should take cognisance of this fact and must reduce the GST on online education service from the present 18 percent to five percent. This will make online education accessible to more and more students.
Aakash Chaudhry, Managing Director, Aakash Educational Services Limited (AESL)
The NEP has already set the pace for enormous skill development for the youth. We are expecting that the government of India will increase the education expenditure in the current education Budget.
With more focus on the implementation of the new policy, quality, and tax-free education and skill development, the reforms will pave ways for more blue-collar jobs.
Classroom education has undergone complete change due to emergence of COVID-19, we expect that the government will put more focus on the usage of digital education in Tier-II and Tier-III cities and envisage avenues to make India as one of the preferred higher education destinations in the world.
Aditya Gupta, CEO, India Didactics Association
Schooling, skilling, higher education, and employment go hand in hand. All of it needs to come together for India to realise its vision of Aatmanirbhar Bharat. So, it is important that funding to education must increase deeply every year to achieve the six percent GDP as envisioned in NEP. The pandemic has created a focus towards the importance and continuance of Education. Hybrid is the way forward and may be well-thought-out as the best way forward.
Hence, the Budget must seek ways to increase investments in technology training and deployment across verticals across geographies. Todays’ India envisions to be the Hub of Education globally, and the Budget needs to identify the global education dynamics and allocate funds accordingly.
Imagination remains the key and the kind of foresight that the NEP exhibits, now must be matched with hard financial commitment. I am sure the Finance Minister would rise to the occasion.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta