Activists from the Jan Arogya Abhiyan (JAA), which is a coalition of groups working on issues related to health, have criticised the Maharashtra government’s budget, saying the health sector witnessed major fund cuts. The cuts come at a time when there is a growing need for greater fund allocation in the health sector, activists said. While the budget for the National Health Mission (NHM) was reduced by Rs 844 crore for 2018-19, the budget for medicines has been cut by Rs 104 crore, from Rs 471 crore in 2017-18.
“Even as the Union Budget announced a National Health Protection Scheme to provide Rs 5 lakh insurance cover to 10 crore families, the state government has made no provisions for it this year,” said Vinod Shinde of the JAA.
The state government’s insurance scheme, the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Arogya Yojana, was allocated Rs 571 crore this year, lower than the revised expenditure of Rs 1,550 crore in 2017-18. The insurance scheme provides a maximum insurance coverage of Rs 1.5 lakh for a family annually. A study by Dr Soumitra Ghosh, from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, found that the actual coverage of the scheme only extended to about 2.5 per cent of the total eligible beneficiaries. The scheme, he said, required more funds to generate awareness in rural and tribal areas about its existence. The NHM budget’s revised estimates in 2017-18 was Rs 3,472 crore, which has been reduced to Rs 2,629 crores for 2018-19.
“Maharashtra’s per capita health expenditure has reduced from Rs 1,082 in 2017-18 to Rs 1,001 this year. Our state is below the national average,” said health expert Ravi Duggal. The share of the health budget has reduced from 4.3 per cent to 3.6 per cent in state’s total budget this year. Activists from the JAA also condemned the consecutive budget cuts in Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), a scheme to provide nutrition for children under six years of age.
“In the last three years, Rs 1,443 crore was deducted from the budgets,” said Duggal. While this year, the budget has been raised by Rs 72 crore, it is a small increase, he added. Sanjeev Kumar, who heads the NHM and is interim director for the Directorate of Health Services, said, “There are no fund cuts when we look at the health budget as a whole, in fact funding for certain programmes has increased.”