The Union budget typically offers the strongest insight into the direction of the fiscal health that a nation is heading towards. While the 2014 edition of the budget might not catalyze a ground breaking revolution in the healthcare sector, it definitely has several important elements that should take India, and the Indian economy, to a healthier place.
Several things stand out in the analysis of this budget. As a citizen of the country, the most impressive aspect is that a government, which came into power just about 6 weeks ago, has presented such a mature and pragmatic financial blueprint for the country's economic growth.
The budget strikes the right balance of positivity and realism. It has a clear focus on the big picture, with distinct, achievable guidelines which makes me positive about the direction that's been set. The thrust is very clearly on honouring the mandate of the nation, with tangible advantages like better education and stronger infrastructure. There is also the promise of self-reliance as seen in the thrust on manufacturing, as well as the agrarian sector.
Indisputable imperatives of the Indian economy like controlling inflation, and enhancing investment assume priority in the new economic agenda which is evident with the transformation in the tax landscape. The finance minister has also reiterated his vision for more streamlined taxation and new initiatives like the tax pass-through on REITS, which are major milestones in this journey.
The plan to provide power for all households, the thrust on medical education, the impetus on skill development, the agenda to develop and add 20 industrial clusters and 7 smart cities, each of these stands for progress and a step ahead in transforming India.
However, for me, the most positive signal lies in what appears to be the robust framework for a digital India. And that is where I can see the real signs of investment that the government is making, to take India to the next level. The announcement of an e-commerce platform to integrate government departments, digital classrooms, the promise to increase broadband penetration in rural India, the Smart Cities initiative are all indicative of a schematic that will give us the much-needed thrust toward digitization, bringing us at par with other super-economies.
As I mentioned earlier, the private healthcare sector did not come up for too much discussion, but overall, there are many positives that will boost the health indices of the nation. A vital intervention has been made in the area of disease control and I'm happy to note that the determinants of disease, like access to safe drinking water and sanitation, will be given the attention they merit to build a healthier country.
Similarly, facilitation of essential drugs free of cost and free diagnostics for the needy and the financially-challenged population is another noteworthy initiative.
From an overall healthcare perspective, the commitment to build an AIIMS in every state in the country is a very progressive move, emblematic of the government's determination to build replicable, sustainable models to improve medical facilities. This is also true of the move to establish dedicated National Institutes of Aging and Institutes for Dental Studies.
On a personal note, I would like to say that the focus on facilities for the differently-abled is something that has been close to my heart. We have rigidly enforced this in all our offices and hospitals, and to see that this sensitive issue has been raised and to hear that the government is making a commitment to promote inclusiveness, gives us hope that there is heart in this year's fiscal budget.
Developments in other sectors of the economy like insurance, promise to trigger further growth in healthcare. The 49% provision for FDI in insurance has the potential to have a multiplier effect in opening up access to quality healthcare. Similarly, medical tourism will get a shot in the arm with the proposed eVisa-on-arrival scheme.
The Union budget of 2014 does a good job of nurturing the exuberant mood prevalent in the nation. It showcases the new administration's commitment to inclusive, long term transformation. In the show of intent, it passes the litmus test with flying colors. The nation hopes that execution matches the vision.
Executive Vice Chairperson
Apollo Hospitals Group