A multi-thousand crore rupee emergency package has won the approval of the Centre in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in India.
The Rs 15,000 crore package for states and union territories includes Rs 7,774 crore for the immediate emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic in India. The total package is to be released and the plan implemented in a three-phase manner dating back to January 2020 and extending until March 2024. The Centre has said that states and union territories have already benefited from an Rs 4,113 crore disbursement to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.
The emergency package has been formed “with the objectives of emergency COVID-19 response, strengthening national and state health systems to support prevention and preparedness, procurement of essential medical equipment, consumables and drugs, strengthening of surveillance activities, including setting up of laboratories and bio-security preparedness,” the Union Health Ministry explained in a letter.
Funds under the first phase will be disbursed until June this year via the National Health Mission. “The key activities to be implemented under Phase 1 include support to states and UTs for development of dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, isolation blocks, ICUs [intensive care units] with ventilators oxygen supply in hospitals, strengthening of laboratories, hiring of additional human resources and incentives to human resource and community health volunteers,” the Health Ministry said.
With the first phase lasting between January and June 2020, the second phase will be implemented between July 2020 and March 2021. The third phase will be implemented between April 2021 and March 2024.
“The key objectives of the package fully funded by the central government include mounting emergency response to slow and limit COVID-19 in India through the development of diagnostics and COVID-19 dedicated treatment facilities, centralized procurement of essential medical equipment and drugs required for treatment of infected patients,” said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the Union Health Ministry.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi informed the citizenry in March of the emergency package. He explained at the time that “the Central Government has provisioned Rs 15,000 crore for treating coronavirus patients and strengthening the medical infrastructure of the country. This will allow for rapidly ramping up the number of Corona testing facilities, personal protective equipment (PPE), isolation beds, ICU beds, ventilators and other essential equipment.
“Simultaneously, training of medical and paramedical manpower will also be undertaken. I have requested the State Governments to ensure that only healthcare is treated as their first and topmost priority now.”
As well as the emergency package sanctioned by the Union Government, a relief fund in the form of the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund has also been set up. Chaired by Modi, the Fund – popularly known as the PM CARES Fund – “consists entirely of voluntary contributions from individuals/organisations and does not get any budgetary support.”
The PM Cares Fund has weathered criticism, however, with concerns being expressed over transparency. Others have queried why a separate relief fund with almost US$500 million on hand is lying dormant. However, reports indicate that the Fund has raised US$295 million in less than two weeks from private sector donations. Modi has said the scheme is designed to help “the poorest of the poor.”