The reshuffled Union Cabinet announced major decisions for the health and agriculture sectors after its first meeting on Thursday, highlighting priority areas for the government in its attempt to curb a possible third wave of Covid infections. 19, and the ongoing protests by farmers against three central laws.
Cabinet approved ₹23,123 crore for the Covid-19 emergency response and the upgrade of basic medical infrastructure for a future outbreak of infections. He also approved a proposal to expand a flagship ₹1 lakh crore funds to Agricultural Marketing Committees (APMC), the backbone of agricultural trade in the country.
“Important decisions regarding agriculture and the welfare of farmers were taken at today’s Cabinet meeting,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.
The 30-member virtual cabinet meeting came a day after Modi let go of 12 ministers, inducted 36 new faces and promoted seven in the first major cabinet reshuffle of his second term.
The briefing was addressed by Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya.
Mandaviya, who took over from Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday, said the Center would provide ₹15,000 crore and states ₹8,123 crore in the new package which will be jointly implemented in 736 districts to improve medical infrastructure in primary and district health centers. Projects under the plan will be implemented within nine months.
“In April 2020, the first package of ₹15,000 crore were announced by the government; it has been used well and the results are visible to everyone as well, ”Mandaviya said.
About 240,000 normal medical beds and 20,000 intensive care unit beds will be created, 20% of which will be reserved for children, he added. Oxygen and drug storage facilities will also be created at the district level.
“This program aims to accelerate the readiness of the health system for immediate responsiveness for prevention, early detection and management, with emphasis on the development of health infrastructure, including for pediatric care, and with measurable results, “a government statement said. To ensure that there is no shortage of oxygen supply, arrangements will be made in each district for a storage of 10,000 liters.
Earlier this year, the government faced criticism from the public, the judiciary and opposition parties as cases and deaths spiked sharply in the second wave this summer. Hospitals ran out of oxygen supplies, leaving patients panting and life-saving drugs were scarce.
The Cabinet also decided to extend the ₹1 lakh-crore Agriculture Infrastructure Fund to APMCs, which are government-run markets for buying and selling agricultural products. The fund’s main aim is to create sustainable agricultural assets, from warehouses to processing plants. The fund can now be used by APMCs to upgrade market facilities used by farmers to sell their produce.
“There should be no apprehension about APMCs. Some have said that the new farm laws will lead to the end of CPMAs. This is not true. The Agricultural Infrastructure Fund can now be used to strengthen APMCs and will make more resources available to them, ”said Tomar.
The Agricultural Infrastructure Fund is designed to fill long-standing investment gaps in rural assets due to its preferential rates. All of the country’s 12 public banks and nine private lenders are part of the fund.
“I want to call on the protesting farmers’ unions to end their protest and hold talks. The government is ready for the talks, ”said Tomar.
The fund, which appeared in the ₹The first 20 lakh crore stimulus package to tackle the Covid crisis in 2020 aims to provide medium and long-term debt financing for investment in agricultural projects.
It grants loans on favorable terms totaling ₹1 lakh crore over four years, starting with a penalty of ₹10,000 crore for 2020-21 and ₹30,000 crore each for the next three fiscal years.
Borrowers receive an interest subsidy, part of the interest of which is paid by the government, of 3% per annum up to a loan limit of ₹2 crore for a period of seven years.
Tomar said as part of the changes to the fund, investors and institutions will be eligible for multiple loan accounts if they invest in more than one project up to a cap of 25 projects provided they are planned. in different domains.
“Indian agriculture has always relied more on subsidies than investments. The new fund will help correct this. It is important that the fund is managed in such a way that farmers can reach scale and effectively connect to markets, ”said Ananth Kumar of TN Agriculture University.
Last year, the government passed three contentious farm laws that quickly sparked controversy with agricultural unions in foodbowl states, alleging the legislation would threaten their livelihoods by forcing them to sell to giant companies with more than bargaining powers at mediocre prices instead of government-run markets. , which offer guaranteed prices for cereals.
The government dismissed the charges, saying the laws would promote competition and expand farmers’ market access. Despite assurances, farmers have been sitting at Delhi’s borders protesting the laws for nearly eight months.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait said farmers were ready to talk with the government but without conditions. “They are imposing conditions that we should go to them for talks. They say they can amend the laws but they will not abolish them. Farmers have not demonstrated for eight months to be able to follow government orders, ”Tikait told ANI.
As part of the health infrastructure plan, the government will support all major central hospitals and other institutions of national importance.
Hospitals include Safdarjung Hospital Delhi, Lady Hardinge Medical College, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital; RIMS, Imphal; NEIGRIMS, Shillong; PGIMER, Chandigarh, and JIPMER, Puducherry, for the reallocation of 6,688 beds for the management of Covid-19.
The National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) will also be strengthened by providing genome sequencing machines, in addition to sanctioning the scientific control room, epidemic intelligence services and support from the secretariat of the Indian Sars-CoV Genomics Consortium. -2 (INSACOG).
At present, only 310 district hospitals are implementing a hospital management information system that brings together data from hospitals and, according to the plan, the government will provide support to all district hospitals for its implementation. artwork.
“We are also planning to integrate digital health systems by scaling up the use of telemedicine services in the country,” Mandviya said.
Funds will also be allocated to improving the IT system, including strengthening the Covid-19 central war room, the country’s Covid-19 portal, 1,075 Covid helplines and the CoWIN platform which is the backbone of the Covid-19 vaccine delivery management system, said the government statement cited above.
Dedicated pediatric units will be created in all 736 districts as well as a pediatric center of excellence in each state. Of the 20,000 intensive care unit beds planned for the public health system, 20% will be pediatric intensive care beds, the statement said.
“For the rest, we will try to follow a hybrid model in which the intensive care beds are designed in such a way that they can be used for both adults and children… support would also be provided to establish larger field hospitals. (50 to 100 bed units) depending on the needs of level II or level III cities and district headquarters, ”Mandviya said.
Experts said it was crucial to strengthen the health care delivery system at the local level.
“It is important to have a strong health care system in place in villages and small towns and if it is strengthened it will significantly reduce the burden on tertiary hospitals,” said Dr KK Talwar, former director of PGI Chandigarh.