The pandemic spared almost no one. As an unparalleled medical and economic crisis, it caused immeasurable suffering and grief to humanity. Yet, we are a resilient lot and even though the Indian economy went through its biggest contraction since 1952, on a positive note, signs of recovery were noted with January clocking in as the government registered an all-time high GST collection of Rs 1.2 lakh crore.
In addition, the COVID vaccination program was launched across the country with two Made-in-India vaccines, including an indigenously developed one, a testament to our capabilities in pharma and healthcare. The number of active coronavirus cases is showing a downward trend, and the country is opening up, albeit with precautions. All of this points to a return to new normalcy.
It is said that what you choose today, will determine who you will be tomorrow. This definitive pertains to individuals, communities, and countries as well. The India Business Expectations Index decreased to 99.50 points in the third quarter of 2021-21 indicating a drop in business confidence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The need was for a budget that would ignite business confidence once again and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has presented a budget that does just that.
A slew of announcements across sectors include major investments in health and well-being, core infrastructure such as urban metro and other public transport, roads and highways, rural infra and power infra, all funded through asset monetisation of rail freightways, oil and gas pipelines, airports in Tier-2 & 3 cities, and sports stadiums as well as disinvestment of non-strategic companies. The relaxation on foreign investments in infrastructure will also give a boost to much-needed infrastructure development.
The budget also includes proposals to promote an Atmanirbhar Bharat with duty hikes to support Make in India, while at the same time encouraging overseas investments in areas such as the insurance and infrastructure sector where best practices and technology would make a positive difference.
A revised customs duty structure free from distortions to be effective from October 2021 and increased transparency in the tax system will all help to create a real 'ease of doing business'. Permitting the incorporation of one-person companies will give a boost to the start-up culture in India.
At the same time, the budget has not forgotten its social obligations. Proposals such as exempting senior citizens above 75 years of age from filing returns and the one-nation one-ration scheme to benefit migrants, will all help to relieve millions recovering from a year full of strife.
The increased outlay on health and welfare is substantially high and takes us closer to the goal of public health expenditure of 2.5% of GDP by 2025. The specific outlay for COVID-19 vaccination will ensure that the inoculation programme will continue to fire on all cylinders.
I am hopeful that the private health sector will be included in the vaccination outreach to add greater speed to the world's fastest vaccination drive. Similarly, even in combatting non-communicable diseases, a threat bigger than COVID-19, including participation from the private health sector, would add much more muscle.
Taking everything into account, this budget, coming after a challenging year, will launch not just the first unmanned Gaganyaan space flight, but also send the economy into a growth orbit and that is encouraging.
(The author is Executive Vice Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals & President, NATHEALTH.)