Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Ka Budget’ on February 1. This was a stellar speech, which clearly outlined the priorities of the government.
Prime Minister Modi has strongly advocated a strong, self-confident and self-reliant India, which produces most of what we need and also a lot of what the world needs. This budget will give an impetus to this dream in a big way.
The budget lays extraordinary emphasis on two pillars of Indian growth — human capital and physical infrastructure.
Human capital is important because only a nation with healthy citizens can prosper. A healthy workforce is the basic building block of economic productivity and prosperity.
The government has fought the Covid-19 pandemic strongly, presenting a resilient view of India to the world. India is now supplying vaccines to many friendly nations globally, thus earning the tag of the “Pharmacy of the World”.
The budget now focusses on the health of Indians — preventive, curative and wellbeing.
The PM Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana, with an allocation of Rs. 64,000 crore will be a gamechanger. More than 28,000 health and wellness centres will be created under this programme, including almost 18,000 in rural India.
The government also proposes to create critical care hospital blocks in 602 districts.
The government is also looking ahead and getting ready to fight with other pandemics in the future. This is exemplified by the plans of strengthening the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), its five regional branches and 20 metropolitan health surveillance units.
There are also plans to set up a national institution for One Health, a Regional Research Platform for WHO South East Asia Region, nine Bio-Safety Level III laboratories and four regional National Institutes for Virology.
These investments will benefit the country in many ways. These global institutions will be at the forefront of medical research, cooperating with global health bodies.
Also, since the government now plans to set up new institutes of virology, these flagship institutes will also aid the regional uplift of healthcare and research.
Through the pandemic, we saw how states like West Bengal and Kerala could not match the national standards of care. Such new labs and national research institutions can help rapid capacity-building in states where healthcare has been neglected.
There is also a specific focus on aspirational districts on the nutrition front. The government will merge the Supplementary Nutrition Programme and the Poshan Abhiyan and launch the Mission Poshan 2.0.
This will improve nutritional outcomes across 112 aspirational districts. This will also help three aspirational districts in West Bengal — Birbhum, Dakshin Dinajpur and Nadia.
Another proposal for improving human capital was the allocation of Rs. 1,000 crore for the welfare of Tea workers, with special focus on women and their children in Assam and West Bengal.
The government plans to devise a special scheme for the purpose. The tea industry in West Bengal has a glorious history and this is a welcome step towards improving the life of hardworking estate labour.
The second big area of focus for the government was physical infrastructure. Plans to expand railways, roads, ports, urban transportation and power sector were unveiled in the budget.
Sectors like railways and roads have got record capital expenditure allocations. This is indeed wonderful news — a better connected India helps businesses, improving cross-country logistics.
The new railway projects bring a big cheer to West Bengal. The budget mentioned that Gomoh-Dankuni section of the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC) of 274.3 km will be taken up shortly after the Sonnagar – Gomoh section.
Completion of the EDFC will be fantastic news for West Bengal, with the state’s ports becoming the centre of trade for products from North India and the Gangetic belt.
Another great news for West Bengal came in the form of the two new DFCs. The government plans to start work on the West–East DFC with the Bhusaval–Kharagpur–Dankuni section prioritised.
Similarly, the work for the East Coast DFC will be taken up, which will stretch from Kharagpur to Vijayawada. This is excellent news for West Bengal, which can become a big trading centre with this connectivity.
It will also help businesses in the state find new domestic as well as international markets.
Even on the roads front, West Bengal got a big allocation. About 675 km of highway works are planned in the state at a cost of Rs. 25,000 crore, including upgradation of existing Kolkata–Siliguri road.
These allocations will make it easier to move within the state and help expand industries to the interior parts of the state as well.
Yet another interesting infrastructure project to be undertaken is the development of modern fishing harbours and fish landing centres. One of these harbours to be developed further will be in Petuaghat near the mouth of the Rasulpur River in Purba Medinipur district.
Central investment in this fishing harbour will bring even better facilities and trade options to this area.
This budget sets the tone for a strong decade ahead — a decade where India will recognise its full potential. The fruits of development propelled by this forward-looking budget will reach all corners of India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of an Atmanirbhar Bharat was truly stamped on this progressive budget.
Kailash Vijayvargiya is National General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party.