All those concerned are eagerly looking forward to significantly increased allocations for health and education sectors in the new union budget, particularly in the former, as so much loss has been suffered in these two sectors that several years of steady, even if slow, progress has been pushed back.
People suffering many serious non-Covid diseases were denied essential medical help for a long time due to lockdown and also due to the excessive emphasis on Covid for several months, and this neglect has to be made up.
Due to prolonged closure of schools, a very large number of students from weaker sections are even in danger of permanently losing access to education and this risk is all the higher for girl students.
In these and other contexts, work of great urgency has to be taken up and clearly this needs adequate funding support. This is in addition to the need for huge additional funds which existed even in the pre-Covid days to support more teachers, doctors, nurses, other health personnel, free or highly subsidized supply of essential medicines, better nutrition and infrastructure.
The glaring shortcomings in the public health and education systems have been exposed even more in Covid times and so there is really pressing need for many improvements at several levels.
Hence higher budget allocations are certainly needed but also we need to look at some other aspects of these two very important sectors.
The health sector In India is becoming increasingly notorious for its inequalities in which the rich aspire for expensive hotel like comforts in hospitals while the poor are denied life-saving treatment in many cases, or else have to incur huge debts to get this treatment and then remain buried under debt for a long time, resulting also in other health and nutrition problems and denials. A large number of poor people are denied essential health care, and also a large number of people are pushed into poverty in their efforts to pay for essential health care. The entire health sector is increasingly dominated by the pressures of those who aspire to yet higher and higher profits from private hospitals, medicines, vaccines and equipments. This also leads to pressures for spending government budgets in ways which feed these profits at various levels. The result is that people do not get the desired benefits of even the less-than-needed allocations of the government and there is a genuine fear that higher allocations may be gobbled by those who already derive very high profits in the health sector.
In the education sector there have been powerful interests always pushing for privatization of education, higher dependence on online education and on costly educational aids which boost private profits in the education sector but also take it away from the real priorities of ensuring good quality school education for all students , including those from poorest families. The pushers for private profits in education sector tried to use the exceptional situation of Covid and lockout times to their advantage and having created a situation of high profits they will like to persist with it. So it is important not just to increase allocations of education sector but also to ensure that the pushers for high profits do not try to corner higher government spending for their narrow aims, denying badly needed funds for real priorities.
Hence there is a pressing need even more than before for reducing inequalities in these sectors in a big way, for reducing the dominance of some big players who keep manipulating all the time for high profit orientation and for remaining extra alert that adequate allocations are ensured for the real priorities of these sectors.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.