Intensive care for health, but pvt sector role finds little mention

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 5 2013, 06:09am hrs
In his final Budget burst before the general elections next year, finance minister P Chidambaram doled out goodies for UPAs flagship social sector schemes.

The link between policy and welfare can be expressed in a few words: opportunities, education, skills, jobs and incomes. My Budget has before it one overarching goal: to create opportunities for our youth to acquire education and skills that will get them decent jobs or self-employment to will bring them adequate incomes that will enable them to live with their families in a safe and secure environment, Chidambaram said.

The allocation for medical and public health was the highest among all social services by 52.6% in 2013-14 at R12,675 crore while that for general education was up 16.8%. The proposed funds for rural employment which is part of the flagship programme of the government under the MGNREGA are pegged at R33,000 crore and with the 12th five-year plan's focus on water supply and sanitation, the finance ministry has upped the outlay for the sector by 17.4%.

However, though he increased the budgetary support for these activities, the FM did not take note of the private sector's increasing participation in these welfare programmes nor did it make any concrete regulatory announcements for the education sector, which has more than half a dozen bills pending.

The tonality of the Budget as far as the education sector goes was highly positive but the absence of any encouragement for much-needed private investment in the sector was a bit disappointing, said Shantanu Prakash, CMD Educomp Solutions.

Emphasising that education is the other high priority for his government, Chidambaram proposed to allocate R65,867 crore to the ministry of human resource development, an increase of 17% over the revised estimate previous year.

Investment in the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) cannot be postponed any longer. Hence, I propose to provide R3,983 crore for RMSA, which is an increase of 25.6% over the RE of the current year, the minister said.

However, Riad Joseph, tax partner, education practice, Ernst & Young noted that while a 15% increase for right to education is positive, there appear to be no specific announcements on regulatory reform, PPP framework and incentives for private sector.

Besides, for the tax-payers, the education cess will continue at 3%. The budget did not seem to go well with the healthcare industry also with Shivinder Mohan Singh, executive vice chairman, Fortis Healthcare saying: It is on expected lines with the usual increases in healthcare as nothing major will happen till healthcare doesn't become mainstream or gets infrastructure status.

Chidambaram has also sought to incentivise the under-skilled youth by offering them R10,000 once they complete their training programmes in various skills. It is definitely a move in the right direction. However, it is equally important to monitor the organisations that get funding to ensure that desired outcomes are met. Higher education institutions must be given a role in auditing the skill-training institutes to ensure that optimum utilisation of funding is done by the large number of government and private vocational institutes, noted Father E Abraham, director, XLRI.