Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called India's high infant and maternal mortality rates a national shame. In the Budget, the government has responded with a 58 per cent increase in allocation to the nutrition programme of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), targeting pre-school children and pregnant women. ICDS funds have gone up from Rs 10,000 crore in 2011-12 to Rs 15,850 crore in 2012-13.
State health care has been expanded to urban areas. A long-planned urban health mission has finally been announced, though funds are not yet allocated. The National Rural Health Mission has received Rs 20,822 crore, up from Rs 18,115 crore last year.
The Budget also contained duty reductions on certain life-saving drugs and surgical components. A concessional import duty regime, of 2.5 per cent basic customs duty with 6 per cent countervailing duty (CVD) and nil special additional duty, has been applied to parts for blood pressure and blood glucose monitors. Full exemption from basic customs duty and CVD has been extended to components for the manufacture of coronary stents, stent systems and artificial heart valves.
The other concession applies to six drugs and vaccines used against HIV-AIDS and renal cancer.
To tackle the rising cost of medical care, the Finance Minister proposed a tax exemption of up to Rs 5,000 for health insurance, for an annual preventive health check.
The focus on nutrition is reflected in the reduced customs duty on material used to address protein and iodine deficiency in women and children. The Budget proposed to reduce basic customs duty on soya protein concentrate and isolated soya protein from 30 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively, to 10 per cent. Excise duty on processed soya food products is down to 6 per cent. On iodine, a concessional basic customs duty of 2.5 per cent and reduced excise duty of 6 per cent are proposed. On probiotics, the budget proposed to reduce basic customs duty from 10 per cent to 5 per cent.
Allocation for the midday meal programme has risen from Rs 10,380 crore last year to Rs 11,937 crore. A multi-sectoral programme to address maternal and child malnutrition in 200 selected “high burden districts” will be rolled out in 2012-13.
An allocation of Rs 750 crore has been proposed for the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls, SABLA, introduced last year.
The Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana, to set up institutions like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and upgrade existing government medical colleges, is to cover seven additional medical colleges.
Highlighting that no new cases of polio were reported last year, the minister said existing vaccine units will be modernised and a new integrated vaccine unit will be established near Chennai to achieve vaccine security.