Amid the coronavirus pandemic which has not only impacted the Indian economy but nations across the world, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the Union Budget 2021 on Monday. The whole nation will turn to Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget 2021 to see how she prioritises spending to get the pandemic-ravaged nation back to being the world’s fastest-growing major economy.Also Read - Tax Concession, Fund Allocation: Here’s What Pharma Sector Expects From Budget 2022

As India emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, the ninth budget under the Modi government, including an interim one, is widely expected to focus on boosting spending on job creation and rural development, generous allocations for development schemes, putting more money in the hands of the average taxpayer and easing rules to attract foreign investments. Also Read - Budget Glossary 2022: Key Economic Terms Decoded to Understand FM Nirmala Sitharaman's Speech

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman (File Image)

The budget, economists and experts say, will be the starting point for picking up the pieces after the economic destruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. And it must go beyond being just a ”bahi khata” or a ledger of accounts, as well as canning old schemes in a new bottle. Also Read - Netaji's Statue Will Inspire Democratic Values, Future Generations, Says PM Modi After Unveiling His Hologram

Revival of Economy:

The government has to play a critical role in pulling the economy out of the trough. While the pandemic is showing signs of being less virulent, a gradual progress in the vaccination programme is fuelling hope for a better future. A sustainable economic revival will need a policy catalyst. That”s where this budget assumes a special relevance.

The pandemic struck at a time when the economy was already caught in the grip of a growth slowdown. GDP growth touched an 11-year low of 4 per cent in 2019-20. A steadily declining investment rate has been a major factor in causing deceleration prior to the coronavirus crisis.

And the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus in March last year brought economic activities to a grinding halt, causing a sharp contraction in the GDP in two successive quarters of FY21, pushing the economy into a recessionary phase.

In response, the government announced a number of policy measures under Aatmanirbhar Bharat package 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 to support the economy. The package was a combination of grant, equity and liquidity measures by the central government, state governments and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

PM Narendra Modi (File Photo)

While the headline stimulus was pegged at close to Rs 21 lakh crore, the actual fiscal impact of the economic packages works out to be about Rs 3.5 lakh crore (1.8 per cent of GDP).

Also, since last budget, the size of the economy has reduced from Rs 2.24 lakh crore nominal GDP considered in the FY21 budget to Rs 1.94 lakh crore. There has been lower-than-budgeted revenue growth and higher expenditure to offset the adverse impact of the pandemic.

Among the most-watched figures in the budget would be the expenditure on vaccination in FY22 which could be shared among the central government, state governments and households.

What should be In Focus:

Health & Nutrition:

In the 2021 Budget, there is an urgent need to increase public funding on health to 2.5% GDP and invest proportionately in Public Health and Primary Health care. To facilitate achieving universalization of health services there needs to be a target of reducing households facing catastrophic health expenditure by 25%, by 2025.

Children are susceptible to infections with high risks of mortality and morbidity especially with COVID-19 and to reduce out of pocket expenditure for vulnerable families, there is need enhance Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram entitlements for children up to 2 years from 1 year.

There also needs to a benchmark nutrition spending to a minimum of Rs 38,571 crores to fully finance core Direct Nutrition Interventions under ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) and NHM (National Health Mission). To ensure maximum coverage and effective budget planning, findings suggest determination of local state-wise unit cost.

A medic demonstrates administration of COVAXIN, an Indian government-backed experimental COVID-19 vaccine, to a health worker during its trials, at the Urban Primary Health Centre at Tezpur in Sonitpur district, Assam, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. (Photo: PTI)

Covid 19 vaccine second dry run to be held today

It is strongly recommended to expedite and prioritize expansion of Pneumococcal Vaccine (PCV) for children in full national immunization schedule and inclusion in all states.

Also, the country’s health infrastructure, more so in the wake of pandemic, revealed a need to enhance resources for strengthening oxygen infrastructure. With the introduction of improved oxygen sources and regular capacity building, India could combat childhood pneumonia.

Education:

Increase public funding on education to 6% GDP as mandated by NEP (National Education Policy) 2020 with a clear financial plan.

Include COVID-19 sub-plan to ensure safe return of children with dedicated allocations on WASH, additional classrooms and staffing in both schools and AWCs.

Enhance Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SMSA) allocations to ensure learning continuity and equitable digital access for 247 million children affected by COVID-19.

Increase SMSA allocation for teacher capacity-building and training to include psychosocial care and other needs of the crisis as only 2% SMSA allocations is for teachers’ education.

Increase Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) share to more than 1.4% total government expenditure as stated in NEP as States are currently struggling with severe revenue shortfall.

Child Protection:

Increase public funding for Child Protection Services to 1.5% GDP. To strengthen and capacitate existing mechanisms, set up a dedicated division in NIPCCD (National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development) on training with focus on psychological support and a systemic Competency-Based Training.

Increase allocation for Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS). Enhanced allocation is needed under Sponsorships with renewed District Needs Analysis to prepare District Child Protection Plan. The meagre allocation of Rs. 2160/- per child per month should be increased to improve quality in Child Care Institutions.

Increase allocations to adapt and strengthen Childline and women helpline for increased domestic violence incidences in COVID-19 context. With provision of safety measures (PPE Kits) and provision for Integrated Command Control Centre (ICCC).

Union Budget 2021: Date, Time, Schedule and Other Details:

Here is a list of some channels where you can watch the budget session 2021 live at 11 hours on Monday, February 1, 2021: Lok Sabha Television, Lok Sabha live webcast, Zee News and other sister channels. You can also follow India.com’s live blog for the latest updates.

Paperless Budget:

The Union Budget papers will not be printed for the first time since Independence, due to COVID-19 pandemic. Every year, the Union Budget is printed in the finance ministry’s in house press, involving nearly 100 employees who have to stay together for nearly a fortnight till the time the papers are printed, sealed and delivered on the day of the Budget.

(With Agency Inputs)