Parliament proceedings | Lok Sabha passes Appropriation Bill

The Lok Sabha on Wednesday cleared the Appropriation Bill, allowing the Central government to draw funds from the Consolidated Fund of India for its operational requirements and implementation of various programmes.

The Bill was passed after Speaker Om Birla put it through guillotine, a legislative mechanism to approve the fast-tracking of the passage of outstanding demands for grants without discussion. Over the past few days, the Lok Sabha discussed the demands for grants for railways, education and health ministries.

On Wednesday, 26 members of the House participated in a debate on the Demand for Grants under the Health Ministry.

In his reply to the debate, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan listed the steps taken by the Narendra Modi-led government to improve the healthcare infrastructure, emphasising on the initiatives to contain the pandemic.

Responding to the concerns raised by several members that the proposed allocations for various other departments such as water, sanitation, nutrition, Ayush and health research, had also been subsumed, Dr. Vardhan said the Centre had adopted a holistic approach towards health and well-being since day one.

“Health is a state of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being of an individual and it is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” he said, adding that it was a World Health Organisation’s definition. He said if the government ensured safe drinking water, sanitation and made arrangements for nutrition to children, it would take care of a majority of health issues.

He said ₹94,452 crore was allocated for health in 2020-21 under the broad parameter and the amount had now increased to over ₹2.23 lakh crore in this Budget. A provision for ₹35,000 crore had been made for the ongoing vaccination drive.

Dr. Vardhan said 66,000 of the 1.5-lakh health and wellness centres envisaged by the government had already been set up and about 35,000 of them became functional during the pandemic.

Several other steps, apart from the budgetary resources, were being taken in the health sector. Under the PM Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana, ₹64,180 crore had been set aside for use during the next six years.

A slew of measures was being taken to prepare the country further for handling the COVID-like situation in the future. Integrated public health laboratories at the block level, virology laboratories, critical care hospitals and urban/rural wellness centres would be created.

New public health units were being set up at 32 airports, 11 ports and the land crossings for point-of-entry surveillance and for effective tracing, the integrated health information portal was being expanded. The local, rural and urban bodies would be provided about ₹70,000 crore to upgrade healthcare systems.

Dr. Vardhan said compared to 2014, the percentage increase in budget allocation till 2020-21 was 95.99%. In terms of GDP share, health expenditure increased from 1.3% to 1.8%. The National Health Policy-2017 had envisaged 2.5% by 2025.

During the pandemic, the Union Minister said, the country achieved self-reliance in the production of PPTs, N-95 masks, diagnostic kits, ventilators and allied articles so much so that they were now being exported. Vaccines were being sent abroad but not at the expense of Indians. From one testing laboratory, the country now has 2,416 units in just about a year.

In reply to the criticism about slow pace of inoculation, Dr. Vardhan said the day India had reached the figure of three million vaccinations, eight million were vaccinated in the entire world. India’s share was about 36%.

Dr. Vardhan said the Prime Minister had held long brainstorming meetings with all the stakeholders in various health related sectors after the Budget was introduced and sought their suggestions for further improvement. April 1 onwards, all the budget announcements would be implemented and the Prime Minister would himself monitor the developments, he said.

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