Opinion: Harjiv Singh
Budget 2021, a promising step in the long journey for Indian healthcare industry
Friday, February 19, 2021

Within first few months of the lockdown, India demonstrated an unprecedented adaptation by becoming self-reliant in PPE production. By May, it is estimated that over 4.5 lakh PPE kits and masks were being produced in India daily, and by July, we were exporting over 23,00,000 kits to countries like USA, UK and others. This was an example of India’s potential to adapt to new industry situations and convert it into economic opportunities.  

The Budget: 

The budget presented by honorable finance minister, Dr Nirmala Sitharaman, was a promising step in the long journey for Indian manufacturing and healthcare sector. With a proposed outlay of Rs 64,180 crore healthcare over the next six years, the budget focused on upgrading our primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare services. The budget also laid out a COVID19 response plan for the coming year, especially as we await two more vaccines. She also spoke about investments to support Make in India campaigns. Additionally, over Rs. 50,000 crore budget has been assigned to innovation and R&D. This is a great step as it will create more opportunities for the Indian manufacturing sector as we’ll be able to deliver products that satisfy the international standards. 

Is that enough?  

The PPE market needs intervention as it continues to be fragmented, with the need of price transparency. India has a surplus of PPE and masks which have the potential to promote international trade. From a consumer’s perspective, this budget was also an opportunity for the Govt to make masks, sanitizers, PPE gear more affordable by reducing the GST to 5%. These products are now a part of everyday life and a necessity. This would have also removed the black market of fake products which could prove to be life threatening as well.  

More could have been done from a manufacturer’s point of view as well. It would have been encouraging to see investment impetus for tier 2 and 3 towns, from where we are seeing many new manufacturers who have the potential to scale up and only lack financial support.  

The Catalyst year 

Having said that, we must enter FY 2021-22 with the aim to make it the catalyst year and set a strong foundation for the PPE industry. For Government’s vision of Atmanirbharta, the only way forward is to boost production of PPE gear, consolidate the fragmented market, and open international trade through transparent channels.  

The demand for PPE kits and other safety products will only increase in the future, as the second strain is 70% more infectious. At the same time, we have seen poor economic growth in 2020 and cannot afford more lockdowns. Further, Indian Medical Association estimates that over 500 doctors and many frontline workers passed away while at service. This demands regular supply of good quality PPE gear for safety of all citizens. We need to create a roadmap to promote PPE gear, mask, gloves and alike in an affordable way. Over the next 2 years, India should look to boost its local R&D efforts to improve quality and competitiveness of manufacturing.    

I am confident that PPE industry will be a catalyst in boosting India’s role in international trade and lead India to a path of economic recovery. 

(The author is board member, GlobalPPEMart. Views expressed are personal)

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