By Ashwini Agarwal
First publised on 2021-06-29 06:17:39
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharman unveiled another booster package for the Covid-ravaged sectors with emphasis on health care and tourism. These are immediate and short term measures to augment capacity or to enable stakeholders tide over the funds crunch due to reduced business.
In the heath sector, the government announced an additional allocation of Rs 23220 crore to boost public healthcare facilities by March, with special emphasis on children and paediatric care. A loan scheme that will be guaranteed by the government has also been put in place for the private sector to augment capacity or create new facilities.
This will enable medical facilities to increase ICU beds, oxygen supply, adequete availability of equipment, medicines, ambulance services, testing and diagnostic services and access to tele-consultation. This will help smaller cities and towns as they will be able to add to their infrastructure. The credit guarantee scheme of Rs 50000 crore for the private sector in cities other than the eight metropolitan cities will boost health infrastructure in these smaller cities and towns. The idea is to be ready in case of future waves.
For the tourism sector, the government has announced that it will issue 5 lakh free visas to tourists till March 2021. More than 1000 government recognized travel agents will be eligible for a loan of Rs 10 lakh guaranteed by the government. 10700 regional-level tourist guides will also be given a loan of Rs 1 lakh. These loans will come without a processing fee and additional collateral. Although industry watchers said that these measures will have limited impact as foreign tourists are unlikely to come to India unless the Covid situation improves, it will help the tourist agencies and tour guides tide over financial difficulties.
The focus on health and tourism is welcome. Tourism is the worst affected sector in the pandemic due to lockdowns and restrictions on travel. As for health, the second wave clearly showed that the existing infrastructure in incapable of catering to even 2X of the usual patients they get, let alone the rush of the pandemic. Several small cities and towns do not even have the basic facilities. Hence, the focus on these smaller cities will serve India well in the long run.