During an address before a joint parliamentary session, President Kovind said the scheme had made a significant contribution to reducing the catastrophic out-of-pocket spending on health responsible for driving economically vulnerable citizens into poverty.. “In order to protect them from this crisis, [the] world’s biggest healthcare scheme…has been implemented, providing ‘Health-Protection-Cover’ to 50 crore poor people,” he told MPs. “Under this, so far about 26 lakh people have availed treatment in hospitals.”
The President’s remarks concerning Ayushman Bharat – officially known as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) – came as part of a broader celebration of an ‘inclusive growth’ agenda propagated by the BJP-led NDA government. “While fulfilling the basic needs of the countrymen, now the government is moving forward towards realizing their aspirations of building a strong, safe, prosperous and all-inclusive India,” he said.
This will cover a number of different health and development indicators, most of which the Modi government enshrined into its agenda during its first term in office. Among them are the eradication of open defecation in the country through the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission; the provision of clean fuels to poor households to reduce the health toll of indoor air pollution; and the regeneration of the River Ganga as it buckles beneath the strain of heavy pollution. The government intends to fulfil these targets by the 75th anniversary of India’s independence in 2022.
On healthcare, the government’s targets include the establishment of 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres and the dispensation of affordable medicines through Jan Aushadhi kendras. Ayushman Bharat, meanwhile, seeks to expand its coverage beyond the fifty crore Indians it initially targeted to cover 75 percent of the country’s population, as Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan pledged shortly after he assumed office following this year’s polls.
President Kovind said that 18,000 health and wellness centres were now operating nationwide. Meanwhile, the Centre has set itself an ambitious target of establishing one Jan Aushadhi kendra for every block and intends to add 2,500 such stores by next year to the current number of 5,050.
The President’s remarks constitute an affirmation of the Modi government’s health-related agenda, tackling the multiplicity of issues affecting citizens’ health. With many targets to be met in a short timeframe, it remains to be seen whether accomplishing them by 2022 will manifest. However, it is important to recognise that, for now, the government’s health and development agenda is on the table for all to see.