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Posts Tagged ‘Arun Jaitley

More trouble may mount for the NDA government of Narendra Modi as the Lok Sabha elections approach. Liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s case is only one of the many scandals for which the answers will be sought from the BJP.

The Rafale deal scam is already troubling the BJP. The ruling party’s harried panellists tried to see a ray of hope when Chief of Indian Air Force Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa observed that the Air Force was reeling under a severe shortage of fighter aircraft and the purchase of Rafale fighter aircraft would strengthen the Air Force. The Air Force Chief may have been advised by the government to come to its defence for purchase of Rafale, as some critics of the deal have asserted. But that does not minimise the gravity of the scandal. The efficacy of the aircraft was never under dispute. It is the ‘higher’ price and the manner of the deal struck by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that is being questioned. Even Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa could not help the government spokespersons in this respect. Asked if the present deal was cheaper than the earlier one, he said that it would ‘be answered by the Ministry of Defence’.

The original deal for the purchase of 126 Rafale aircraft was abandoned by Modi in favour of the purchase of 36 aircraft. The original deal involved the outright purchase of 18 aircraft and the manufacture of the remaining 108 aircraft in India on the basis of transfer of technology. The price per aircraft in the original deal was Rs 715 crore while in Modi’s modified agreement, the price per aircraft was agreed at Rs 1670 crore. Not only that, the contract was taken away from Public Sector Undertaking HAL and awarded to Anil Ambani’s outfit ‘Reliance Defence’ which was incorporated less than a fortnight before the deal was signed by Modi  and had no expertise in manufacturing defence aircraft.

Vijay Mallya’s revelation that he had met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley before leaving India seems to have rattled Jaitley. First he outright denied any meeting with Mallya; then he admitted meeting him informally at Parliament and added that there was no formal meeting between the two. Who is Jaitley trying to fool? Does a man, running away from the law after committing a major crime, fix a formal appointment with the authority to seek his help for escaping to a safer place? Some BJP panellists came to Jaitley’s defence by alleging Mallya’s cosy relations with Congress leaders. Whatever Mallya’s relations or dealings with Congress leaders, his escape from the country’s law was facilitated by the Modi government, presumably at the instance of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, so much so that a ‘detention’ notice was converted into a ‘just inform’ notice at the airport for Mallya. According to NDTV investigation, CBI joint director A K Sharma had changed ‘detain’ notice into ‘just inform’ notice. A K Sharma belongs to the Gujarat cadre and is said to be one of the favourite officers of Modi.

Perhaps a greater bomb will explode when Raghuram Rajan’s list submitted to the PMO is out – and it has to some time. In his deposition before a Parliamentary Committee, the former Governor of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) revealed that  he had sent a list of ‘high profile cases of fraud in the banking sector’ to the PMO urging coordinated action ‘to bring at least one or two to book’. The PMO, however, did not act. Rajan had made it clear that frauds are different from normal non-performing assets (NPAs).

Rajan has not named the fraudsters nor has he specified when he sent the list to the PMO – during the UPA rule or during Modi’s regime. It can, however, be safely surmised that the list was sent to Modi and it was Modi who had scuttled any action against high profile fraudsters. Surely it could not have been Manmohan Singh. Raghuram Rajan became Governor of RBI in September 2013. In less than six months the election process had started. He did not have enough time to fully understand the functioning of the RBI, collect and collate the details of the high profile fraudsters and submit it to the PMO. Even if he did submit to Manmohan Singh as the UPA government was on its way out, he would not have time to scrutinise the list and would leave it for Modi. Moreover, had Manmohan Singh been even remotely involved with the list of high profile fraudsters, loudmouthed Modi would have mentioned it ad nauseam in his speeches in India and outside. 

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Union Budget for 2018-2019 has promised a National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS), a publicly funded health insurance programme for half a billion citizens of the country. But no sufficient funds have been allocated for what Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said would be the world’s largest government-funded healthcare programme.

In the first phase, 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres are proposed to be set up across the country to provide comprehensive healthcare including free medicines and diagnostic services. But the Budget allocation for this is only Rs 1,200 crore. This works out to about Rs 80,000 per centre. If a centre receives 100 patients on weekdays which will make around 25,000 in a year, the average allocation per patient would be a little over Rs 3 which is much too insufficient even to cover the medicines and diagnostic services, leave aside the overhead expenses on running a centre.

It’s not that the government woke up only recently to the health problems of the people. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had observed in December 2014 — a few months after the present NDA government took office — that a major change in the health care system of India was needed. The country, he said, was at present having a fragmented healthcare system which was not at all enough to cater to the needs of the people, particularly the poorer sections of the society.

Addressing the 10th convocation of King George’s Medical University (KGMU) at Lucknow, he said, ‘if the primary healthcare centres are strengthened, almost 85 per cent of the burden on the major institutes like All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences and King George’s Medical University can be brought down.’ he added that the Government of India was working to bring about this change.

But the Government had, apparently, other priorities more pressing than the poor man’s health. A parliamentary panel report on health and family welfare released last year pointed out that in India there is just one government doctor for every 10,189 people, one government hospital bed for every 2,046 people and one State-run hospital for every 90,343 people. (Needless to say that most of these facilities are concentrated in urban areas.) With a doctor-patient population ratio worse than Vietnam, Algeria and Pakistan, the shortage of doctors is one of the biggest ailments afflicting the country’s health management system, the panel noted.

Meagre budgetary allocation for health services is the major factor affecting healthcare system, particularly in the rural and suburban areas. But more than that it is the mismanagement born out of indifference of the ruling classes that is plaguing the health delivery system. According to the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in his report on reproductive and child health under the National Rural Health Mission for the year ended March 2016, the picture that emerges in several States is one of inability to absorb the funds allocated, shortage of staff at Primary Health Centres (PHCs), Community Health Centres (CHCs) and district hospitals, lack of essential medicines, broken-down equipment and unfilled doctor vacancies. In the case of Uttar Pradesh, the CAG found that about 50 per cent of PHCs it audited did not have a doctor, while 13 States had significant levels of vacancies.

A serious effort in this direction has of late been made by the Delhi Government by opening ‘Mohalla Clinics’ for providing free primary healthcare services to the people in the capital. The effort has been lauded by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In a letter to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Annan wrote, ‘we understand that this initiative is proving very successful and we commend you on this impressive achievement.’ Annan wrote the letter in his capacity as the Chair of ‘The Elders’, an organisation of independent global leaders founded by anti-apartheid icon and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela. Dr Kenneth E Thorpe, Chair of Department of Health Policy at the Rollins School of Public Health, USA, remarked after visiting ‘Mohalla Clinics’ during one of his visits to India that these Mohalla Clinics ‘are definitely an important addition to India’s health sector.’

Politicians in power and government servants mostly patronise private nursing homes even for minor and routine ailments. Services in government-run hospitals, dispensaries and health centres will improve substantially if the government stops, by enacting a law or by evolving a convention, reimbursement of expenses incurred by these classes on meeting their health needs in private nursing homes. But the health insurance programme enunciated in the budget is only meant to help further private operators because there is nothing the budget to strengthen Government-run hospitals and dispensaries.


September 2018
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