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Budget 2019: Modi govt overlooks pharma, health and education sectors in its Vote on Account

PB Jayakumar     February 1, 2019

In an interim budget targeting the mass voters, the Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal did not come up with major new schemes or announcements related to healthcare, education and technology sectors, other than announcing intentions to set up a new AIIMS in Haryana and a Centre of Excellence for Artificial Intelligence.

"We launched the world's largest healthcare programme, Ayushman Bharat, to provide medical treatment to nearly 50 crore people. Already close to 10 lakh patients have benefited for medical treatment, which would have cost them Rs 3,000 crore through free treatments made available under the scheme," the minister claimed in his speech, but did not mention new allocations for the year. He also claimed lakhs of poor and middle class people are also benefiting from reduction in the prices of essential medicines, cardiac stents and knee implants, and availability of medicines at affordable prices through Pradhan Mantri Jan Aushadhi Kendras.

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"One interesting highlight in the interim budget is the vision for 'Healthy India' by building a distress free, functional and comprehensive healthcare and wellness system by 2030," said Dr Azad Moopen, Founder Chairman & Managing Director, Aster DM Healthcare.

"Regarding healthcare, we expected larger spends on Ayushman Bharat but the current increase is insufficient," said Ganesh Sabat, CEO, SMT.

"Although with an excellent intention to march towards 2030 by taking actions on child welfare along with Pradhanmantri Ayushman Yojana this budget will have a lot of challenges for its execution right from Primary Healthcare centres. Government is also trying to make comprehensive wellness system and also look forward to invest in digitalisation, which will overtime be beneficial for pharma and healthcare industry," felt Dr RB Smarta, Chairman & Managing Director, Interlink, a pharma consulting company.

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The minister said in the area of Artificial Intelligence and related technologies, the government is planning a National Programme on Artificial Intelligence. "This would be catalysed by the establishment of the National Centre on Artificial Intelligence as a hub along with Centres of Excellence. Nine priority areas have been identified. A National Artificial Intelligence portal will also be developed soon," he said. However, no allocation was made for the initiative.

Similarly, the Finance Minister also announced setting up of the 22nd All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Haryana. Sources said the country currently has only nine AIIMS operational, though the NDA Government announced 14 AIIMS in the last five years. While four AIIMS coming up at Raebareli, Gorakhpur, Kalyani, Hyderabad and Bhatinda are expected to be operational temporarily this year, work on another eight AIIMS have not progressed much, they said. The minister did not indicate allocating funds for the same in the interim budget.

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