The Finance Minister, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, will present the Union Budget 2023-24 in Parliament on February 1, 2023. The forthcoming budget becomes crucial in view of India assuming the G-20 leadership and its ambitious goal of becoming a developed nation in the next 25 years, articulated by the Prime Minister in his Independence Day address to the nation in 2022. While the annual budget will be a step forward in accomplishing national goals, it is hoped that this budget will also propose measures along with adequate budgetary allocation to deal with the fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthening of the public health system.
Over the past two decades, India’s achievements in the economic spheres and family planning have been impressive. India needs to step up investments in its public health programmes, girls’ education, capacity building of the youth, women’s empowerment and a number of related areas, leading to a direct impact on its demographic and health indicators, including fertility.
However, despite the strides made, inter-regional disparities in access to health, education and employment opportunities continue to exist. Going forward, the country needs targeted investments in government programmes that focus on addressing the unmet need of marginalized populations and geographies. This would require greater investments in health, nutrition, education, professional skills and employment opportunities.
Indian adolescents, numbering 253 million, are the largest adolescent population in the world and have distinct needs. Adolescents, especially from marginalised communities, face multiple challenges as they lack access to information, guidance and services related to sexual and reproductive health. Greater investments in quality health information and services for adolescents are critical for averting teenage pregnancies, preventing unsafe abortions and promoting good health and mental well-being of this vulnerable population group.
Specifically, the upcoming budget should focus on the following:
Higher budgetary allocations for sexual and reproductive health and family planning programmes under the National Health Mission;
Greater investments in the Rashtriya Kishore Swashtya Karyakram (RKSK) programme to cater to the needs of young people. This includes making adolescent health clinics under RKSK adolescent-friendly, and ensuring the presence of counsellors in the clinics;
Increased allocations for Central Sector Family Welfare schemes, which includes the budgets for procurement and distribution of contraceptives to the states (which saw an annual increment of 25% last year) as well as budgetary provision for the introduction of Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs), such as Implants, in the public health system;
Increase in the budget for family welfare to ensure adequate supply of contraceptives methods for spacing births and LARCs to meet reproductive health needs, especially of young people;
Greater investments in gender equality initiatives and social and behaviour change communication programmes will help address the social determinants of health.
Population Foundation of India’s Executive Director, Poonam Muttreja said, “We at Population Foundation of India have high expectations from this year’s budget and hope that it will have adequate allocations for the young, especially adolescents and women. The budget has been responding to the emerging needs and challenges which come up year after year while keeping its eye on the larger social development needs of India. With India’s population projected to overtake China’s next year, and the G20 leadership which India has assumed for 2023, the focus of the world will be on our country. It is important that India’s commitment to population and development, particularly sexual and reproductive health, and the wider public health programme, are reflected in this year’s budget.