Rashid Paul

J&K’s neglected health sector finally getting some financial traction

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Experts suggest it needs MORE; pitch for developing Kashmir as medical tourism destination

Srinagar: Ignored for decades, Kashmir’s health sector is for the first time seeing a rise in the developmental outlay and shall receive 3.66 percent of the estimated capital expenditure of the current budget for the territory.

The unprecedented loss and disruptions caused by the pandemic has forced the government to pump in Rs 1,455 core to develop the health and medical education sector during the ongoing financial year. The allocation is Rs 188 crores more than budget estimates of 2020-21.

Though a welcome increase amid an unpredictable virus, the government should have raised the outlay by at least a Rs 2,000 crores to upgrade its under-developed health and medical education sector, said a senior Finance department official.

The Government of India, he said, has been generous enough to Jammu and Kashmir in escalating its allocation under security-related expenditures (SRE) from the previous year’s Rs 2,000 crores to Rs 2,500 crores this fiscal under the entitled grants, said the officer.

It should also have increased the allocation for health services accordingly, he added.

It is mentionable that SRE allocation for J&K in 2019-2020 was Rs 1,775 crores.

However, the assignment of financial resources to the union territory for medical services has shown a considerable increase in the pandemic. The budgeted capital expenditure (CapEx) has, for the first time, exceeded that of the Home department, reveal the figures.

The public expenditure in J&K is exceptionally being exhausted on internal security, as a result the social infrastructure and economic sectors have consistently been relegated to secondary position.

With a CapEx of Rs 1,455 crore, the J&K administration shall now be able to develop machinery, equipment and buildings for its fractured health system amid an unsettling pandemic. The amount makes 29.59 percent of the CapEx on social sector.

The overall budged CapEx in J&K saw an increase since 2017-18 but a considerable part of it is being financed by borrowings. The CapEx went from an estimate of Rs 19,694 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 30,653 the year following.

The reading down of the special autonomous position of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 and the ensuing lockdown and communication blockade, however, had a disastrous effect on the budgeted capital expenditure (BE) as well. It went down from of Rs 38,764 crore to a revised estimate of Rs 29,855 crores.

For now, many initiatives have been taken by the government to enable the people in the Union territory a better health facility. For instance, the ABPMJAY provides for free medical treatment up to Rs 5 lakh per family to all the families of the Union territory.

But to provide optimal healthcare facilities, a robust health and medical education infrastructure is necessitated in the region which is far behind its neighboring states like Himachal Pradesh.

“Being caught in a peculiar geo-political situation does not mean that the right to basic human needs (including healthcare) of the people of J&K should be shelved till the resolution of the conflict. It is an existential issue and needs consideration,” suggested Dr Javaid Iqbal, a political economist at the University of Kashmir.

Besides the Government of India extended health programmes to the region require to be tailored according to its culture and geography, he added.

He also suggested creation of an advisory board that shall include health experts, development economists and bureaucrats as can devise a policy where efficient delivery of healthcare can be looked into.

“A mechanism is needed to minimize referral rate to tertiary-care health institutions by developing Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) and SMHS Hospital like general care, pediatric and maternity hospitals in northern and southern parts of Jammu and Kashmir divisions,” he said.

“Similar institutions can be established in the forlorn areas of Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley areas of Jammu.”

Dr Abdul Hamid Zargar, a medical scientist and former director of SKIMS suggests encouragement and facilitation of private investment in the medical sector.

“The government of India is planning industrial investments in Kashmir.  Instead, it should invite global players and non-resident Indian Kashmiris for investment in raising a world-class heath sector in the Valley. This will generate a lot of employment,” Dr Zargar said.

The idea seems genuine and pragmatic. Kashmir Himalaya has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world. Developing it in to a world-class medical tourism destination shall bring in health, wealth and peace to this unique place which has for long been embedded in a conflict involving two nuclear armed states.

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