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Budget 2021-22 key points

The Union Minister for Finance & Corporate Affairs, Smt Nirmala Sitharaman presented the Union Budget 2021-22 in Parliament on February 1, 2021.

1.Health and Wellbeing

There is increase in investment in Health Infrastructure and the Budget outlay for Health and Wellbeing is Rs 2,23,846 crore in BE 2021-22 as against this year’s BE of Rs 94,452 crore, an increase of 137 percentage.

A new centrally sponsored scheme, PM AatmaNirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana, will be launched with an outlay of about Rs 64, 180 crore over 6 years. The aim is to develop capacities of primary, secondary, and tertiary care Health Systems, strengthen existing national institutions, and create new institutions. This will be in addition to the National Health Mission. The main interventions under the scheme are:

 

    1. Support for 17,788 rural and 11,024 urban Health and Wellness Centers
    2. Setting up integrated public health labs in all districts and 3382 block public health units in 11 states;
    3. Establishing critical care hospital blocks in 602 districts and 12 central institutions;
    4. Strengthening of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), its 5 regional branches and 20 metropolitan health surveillance units;
    5. Expansion of the Integrated Health Information Portal to all States/UTs to connect all public health labs;
    6. Operationalisation of 17 new Public Health Units and strengthening of 33 existing Public Health Units at Points of Entry, that is at 32 Airports, 11 Seaports and 7 land crossings;
    7. Setting up of 15 Health Emergency Operation Centers and 2 mobile hospitals; and
    8. Setting up of a national institution for One Health, a Regional Research Platform for WHO South East Asia Region, 9 Bio-Safety Level III laboratories and 4 regional National Institutes for Virology.

 

Vaccines

Provision of Rs 35,000 crore made for Covid-19 vaccine in BE 2021-22.

The Pneumococcal Vaccine, a Made in India product, presently limited to only 5 states, will be rolled out across the country aimed at averting 50,000 child deaths annually.

Nutrition

Government will merge the Supplementary Nutrition Programme and the PoshanAbhiyan and launch the Mission Poshan 2.0. Government will adopt an intensified strategy to improve nutritional outcomes across 112 Aspirational Districts.

Universal Coverage of Water Supply and Swachch Bharat Mission

JalJeevan Mission (Urban), will be launched for universal water supply in all 4,378 Urban Local Bodies with 2.86 crore household tap connections, as well as liquid waste management in 500 AMRUT cities. It will be implemented over 5 years, with an outlay of Rs. 2,87,000 crore. Moreover, the  Urban Swachh Bharat Mission will be implemented with a total financial allocation of  Rs 1,41,678 crore over a period of 5 years from 2021-2026. Also to tackle air pollution, government proposed to provide an amount of Rs. 2,217 crore for 42 urban centres with a million-plus population in this budget. A voluntary vehicle scrapping policy to phase out old and unfit vehicles was also announced. Fitness tests have been proposed in automated fitness centres after 20 years in case of personal vehicles, and after 15 years in case of commercial vehicles

2.Physical and Financial Capital and Infrastructure

AatmaNirbhar Bharat-Production Linked Incentive Scheme

PLI schemes for an AatmaNirbhar Bharat have been announced for 13 sectors. The government has committed nearly Rs.1.97 lakh crore in the next 5 years starting FY 2021-22. The Minister claimed that this initiative will help bring scale and size in key sectors, create and nurture global champions and provide jobs to our youth. 

Textiles

A scheme of Mega Investment Textiles Parks (MITRA) will be launched in addition to the PLI scheme. The Minister claimed that this will create world class infrastructure with plug and play facilities to enable create global champions in exports. 7 Textile Parks will be established over 3 years.

Infrastructure

The National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) was launched with 6835 projects; the project pipeline has now expanded to 7,400 projects. Around 217 projects worth Rs 1.10 lakh crore under some key infrastructure Ministries have been completed.

Infrastructure financing – Development Financial Institution (DFI)

A Bill to set up a DFI will be introduced. Government has provided a sum of Rs 20,000 crore to capitalise this institution and the ambition is to have a lending portfolio of at least Rs 5 lakh crore for this DFI in three years time.

Asset Monetisation

Monetizing operating public infrastructure assets is a very important financing option for new infrastructure construction. A “National Monetization Pipeline” of potential Brownfield infrastructure assets will be launched.  An Asset Monetization dashboard will also be created for tracking the progress and to provide visibility to investors. Some important measures in the direction of monetisation are:

  1. National Highways Authority of India and PGCIL each have sponsored one InvIT that will attract international and domestic institutional investors. Five operational roads with an estimated enterprise value of Rs 5,000 crore are being transferred to the NHAIInvIT.  Similarily, transmission assets of a value of Rs 7,000 crore will be transferred to the PGCIL InvIT.
  2. Railways will monetize Dedicated Freight Corridor assets for operations and maintenance, after commissioning.
  3. The next lot of Airports will be monetised for operations and management concession.
  4. Other core infrastructure assets that will be rolled out under the Asset Monetization Programme are: (i) NHAI Operational Toll Roads (ii) Transmission Assets of PGCIL (iii) Oil and Gas Pipelines of GAIL, IOCL and HPCL (iv) AAI Airports in Tier II and III cities, (v) Other Railway Infrastructure Assets (vi) Warehousing Assets of CPSEs such as Central Warehousing Corporation and NAFED among others and (vii) Sports Stadiums.

Roads and Highways Infrastructure

By March 2022, Government would be awarding another 8,500 kms and complete an additional 11,000 kms of national highway corridors. The Minister also provided an enhanced outlay of Rs. 1,18,101 lakh crore for Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, of which Rs.1,08,230 crore is for capital, the highest ever.

Railway Infrastructure

Indian Railways have prepared a National Rail Plan for India – 2030. The Plan is to create a ‘future ready’ Railway system by 2030. It is expected that Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) and Eastern DFC will be commissioned by June 2022.

For Passenger convenience and safety, the following measures are proposed:

  1. Introduction of aesthetically designed Vista Dome LHB coach on tourist routes to give a better travel experience to passengers. 
  2. The safety measures undertaken in the past few years have borne results. To further strengthen this effort, high density network and highly utilized network routes of Indian railways will be provided with an indigenously developed automatic train protection system that eliminates train collision due to human error.
  3. Budget also provided a record sum of Rs. 1,10,055 crore, for Railways of which Rs. 1,07,100 crore is for capital expenditure.

Urban Infrastructure

Government will work towards raising the share of public transport in urban areas through expansion of metro rail network and augmentation of city bus service. A new scheme will be launched at a cost of Rs. 18,000 crore to support augmentation of public bus transport services.

A total of 702 km of conventional metro is operational and another 1,016 km of metro and RRTS is under construction in 27 cities. Two new technologies i.e., ‘MetroLite’ and ‘MetroNeo’ will be deployed to provide metro rail systems at much lesser cost with same experience, convenience and safety in Tier-2 cities and peripheral areas of Tier-1 cities. 

Power Infrastructure

The Minister claimed that during the past 6 years, 139 Giga Watts of installed capacity has been added, connecting an additional 2.8 crore households and addition of  1.41 lakh circuit km of transmission lines.

Finance Minister proposed to launch a revamped reforms-based result-linked power distribution sector scheme with an outlay of Rs. 3,05,984 crore  over 5 years. The scheme will provide assistance to DISCOMS for Infrastructure creation including pre-paid smart metering and feeder separation, upgradation of systems, etc., tied to financial improvements.

Ports, Shipping, Waterways

Major Ports will be moving from managing their operational services on their own to a model where a private partner will manage it for them.  For the purpose the budget proposes to offer more than Rs. 2,000 crore by Major Ports on Public Private Partnership mode in FY21-22.

A scheme to promote flagging of merchant ships in India will be launched by providing subsidy support to Indian shipping companies in global tenders floated by Ministries and CPSEs. An amount of Rs. 1624 crore will be provided over 5 years. This initiative will enable greater training and employment opportunities for Indian seafarers besides enhancing Indian companies share in global shipping.

Petroleum & Natural Gas

Following key initiatives are being announced:

  1. Ujjwala Scheme will be extended to cover 1 crore more beneficiaries.
  2. Government will add 100 more districts in next 3 years to the City Gas Distribution network. 
  3. A gas pipeline project will be taken up in Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
  4. An independent Gas Transport System Operator will be set up for facilitation and coordination of booking of common carrier capacity in all-natural gas pipelines on a non-discriminatory open access basis.

Financial Capital

The Finance Minister proposed to consolidate the provisions of SEBI Act, 1992, Depositories Act, 1996, Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956 and Government Securities Act, 2007 into a rationalized single Securities Markets Code.  The Government would support the development of a world class Fin-Tech hub at the GIFT-IFSC.

Increasing FDI in Insurance Sector

She also proposed to amend the Insurance Act, 1938 to increase the permissible FDI limit from 49% to 74% and allow foreign ownership and control with safeguards. Under the new structure, the majority of Directors on the Board and key management persons would be resident Indians, with at least 50% of Directors being Independent Directors, and specified percentage of profits being retained as general reserve.

Disinvestment and Strategic Sale

The Finance Minister said a number of transactions namely BPCL, Air India, Shipping Corporation of India, Container Corporation of India, IDBI Bank, BEML, Pawan Hans, NeelachalIspat Nigam limited among others would be completed in 2021-22. Other than IDBI Bank, Government propose to take up the privatization of two Public Sector Banks and one General Insurance company in the year 2021-22. 

In 2021-22, Government would also bring the IPO of LIC for which the requisite amendments will be made in this Session itself. 

The Finance Minister said that in the AtmaNirbhar Package, she had announced to come out with a policy of strategic disinvestment of public sector enterprises and said that the Government has approved the said policy.  The policy provides a clear roadmap for disinvestment in all non-strategic and strategic sectors.  Government has kept four areas that are strategic where bare minimum CPSEs will be maintained and rest privatized. In the non-strategic sectors, CPSEs will be privatised, otherwise shall be closed. She said that to fast forward the disinvestment policy, NITI Aayog will work out on the next list of Central Public Sector companies that would be taken up for strategic disinvestment. Government has estimated Rs. 1,75,000 crore as receipts from disinvestment in BE 2020-21 .

3.Inclusive Development for India

The Finance Minister announced to cover Agriculture and Allied sectors, farmers’ welfare and rural India, migrant workers and labour, and financial inclusion.

Agriculture

The Minister said that the MSP regime has undergone a sea change to assure price that is at least 1.5 times the cost of production across all commodities. The procurement has also continued to increase at a steady pace.  This has resulted in increase in payment to farmers substantially.

In case of wheat, the total amount paid to farmers in 2013-2014 was Rs. 33,874 crore. In 2019-2020 it was Rs. 62,802 crore, and even better, in 2020-2021, this amount, paid to farmers, was Rs. 75,060 crore.  The number of wheat growing farmers that were benefitted increased in 2020-21 to 43.36 lakhs as compared to 35.57 lakhs in 2019-20.

For paddy, the amount paid in 2013-14 was Rs. 63,928 crore. In 2019-2020, this increased to Rs.1,41,930 crore. Even better, in 2020-2021, this is further estimated to increase to Rs. 172,752 crore.  The farmers benefitted increased from 1.24 crore in 2019-20 to 1.54 crore in 2020-21.

In the same vein, in case of pulses, the amount paid in 2013-2014 was ` 236 crore. In 2019-20 it increased to Rs. 8,285 crore. Now, in 2020-2021, it is at Rs.10,530 crore, a more than 40 times increase from 2013-14.

The receipts to cotton farmers have seen a increase from Rs. 90 crore in 2013-14 to Rs. 25,974 crore (as on 27th January 2021). 

Early this year, Honourable Prime Minister had launched SWAMITVA Scheme. Under this, a record of rights is being given to property owners in villages. Up till now, about 1.80 lakh property-owners in 1,241 villages have been provided cards and the Finance Minister proposed during FY21-22 to extend this to cover all states/UTs.

The Government has enhanced the agricultural credit target to Rs. 16.5 lakh crore in FY22. Similarly, the allocation to the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund increased from Rs. 30,000 crore to Rs. 40,000 crore. The Micro Irrigation Fund, with a corpus of Rs.5,000 crore has been created under NABARD will be doubled.

The scope of ‘Operation Green Scheme’ that is presently applicable to tomatoes, onions, and potatoes, will be enlarged to include 22 perishable products.

Around 1.68 crore farmers are registered and Rs. 1.14 lakh crore of trade value has been carried out through e-NAMs. 1,000 more mandis will be integrated with e-NAM. The Agriculture Infrastructure Funds would be made available to APMCs for augmenting their infrastructure facilities.

Fisheries

To start with, 5 major fishing harbours – Kochi, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Paradip, and Petuaghat – will be developed as hubs of economic activity.

Migrant Workers and Labourers

Government has launched the One Nation One Ration Card scheme through which beneficiaries can claim their rations anywhere in the country. One Nation One Ration Card plan is under implementation by 32 states and UTs, reaching about 69 crore beneficiaries – that’s a total of 86% beneficiaries covered. The remaining 4 states and UTs will be integrated in the next few months.

Social security benefits will extend to gig and platform workers. Minimum wages will apply to all categories of workers, and they will all be covered by the Employees State Insurance Corporation. Women will be allowed to work in all categories and also in the night-shifts with adequate protection. Compliance burden on employers will be reduced with single registration and licensing, and online returns.

Financial Inclusion

To facilitate credit flow under the scheme of Stand Up India for SCs, STs, and women, the Finance Minister proposed to reduce the margin money requirement from 25% to 15%, and to also include loans for activities allied to agriculture. Government has provided Rs. 15,700 crore to MSME sector – more than double of this year’s BE.

4.Human Capital

More than 15,000 schools will be qualitatively strengthened to include all components of the National Education Policy.  The Minster also announced that 100 new Sainik Schools will be set up in partnership with NGOs/private schools/states. She also proposed to set up a Higher Education Commission of India, as an umbrella body having 4 separate vehicles for standard-setting, accreditation, regulation, and funding. For accessible higher education in Ladakh, Government proposed to set up a Central University in Leh.

Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare

Government has set a target of establishing 750 Eklavya model residential schools in tribal areas with increase in unit cost of each such school from Rs. 20 crore to Rs. 38 crore, and for hilly and difficult areas, to Rs. 48 crore. Similarly, under the revamped Post Matric Scholarship Scheme for the welfare of Scheduled Castes, the Central Assistance was enhanced and allocated  Rs. 35,219 crore for 6 years till 2025-2026, to benefit 4 crore SC students.

5.Innovation and R&D

The Finance Minister said that in her Budget Speech of July 2019, she had announced the National Research Foundation and added that the NRF outlay will be of Rs. 50,000 crore, over 5 years.

Government will undertake a new initiative – National Language Translation Mission (NTLM). This will enable the wealth of governance-and-policy related knowledge on the Internet being made available in major Indian languages.

The New Space India Limited (NSIL), a PSU under the Department of Space will execute the PSLV-CS51 launch, carrying the Amazonia Satellite from Brazil, along with a few smaller Indian satellites.

As part of the Gaganyaan mission activities, four Indian astronauts are being trained on Generic Space Flight aspects, in Russia. The first unmanned launch is slated for December 2021.

6.Minimum Government, Maximum Governance

The Finance Minister proposed to take measures to rationalised the functioning of Tribunals. Government has introduced the National Commission for Allied Healthcare Professionals Bill in Parliament, with a view to ensure transparent and efficient regulation of the 56 allied healthcare professions. She also announced that the forthcoming Census could be the first digital census for this Rs. 3,768 crore allocated  in the year 2021-2022.

Against an original BE expenditure of Rs. 30.42 lakh crore for 2020-2021, RE estimates are Rs. 34.50 lakh crore. The capital expenditure, estimated in RE is Rs. 4.39 lakh crore in 2020-2021 as against Rs. 4.12 lakh crore in BE 2020-21.

The Finance Minister said fiscal deficit in RE 2020-21 is pegged at 9.5% of GDP and it has been funded through Government borrowings, multilateral borrowings, Small Saving Funds and short-term borrowings. She added that the Government would need another Rs 80,000 crore for which it would be approaching the markets in these 2 months.  The fiscal deficit in BE 2021-2022 is estimated to be 6.8% of GDP. The gross borrowing from the market for the next year would be around 12 lakh crore.

Sitharaman announced that the Government plan to continue the path of fiscal consolidation, and intend to reach a fiscal deficit level below 4.5% of GDP by 2025-2026 with a fairly steady decline over the period.

“We hope to achieve the consolidation by first, increasing the buoyancy of tax revenue through improved compliance, and secondly, by increased receipts from monetisation of assets, including Public Sector Enterprises and land”, she said.

In accordance with the views of the 15th Finance Commission, Government is allowing a normal ceiling of net borrowing for the states at 4% of GSDP for the year 2021-2022.

The FRBM Act mandates fiscal deficit of 3% of GDP to be achieved by 31st March 2020-2021. The effect of this year’s unforeseen and unprecedented circumstances has necessitated the submission of a deviation statement under Sections 4 (5) and 7 (3) (b) of the FRBM Act which the Finance Minister laid on the Table of the House as part of the FRBM Documents.

On 9th December 2020, the 15th Finance Commission submitted its final report, covering the period 2021-2026 to the Rashtrapatiji. The Government has laid the Commission’s report, along with the explanatory memorandum retaining the vertical shares of the states at 41%.  On the Commission’s recommendation, the Budget provided  Rs. 1,18,452 crore  as revenue deficit grant to 17 states in 2021-22.

PART-B

In Part B of the Budget Speech, the Union Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman seeks to further simplify the Tax Administration, Litigation Management and ease the compliance of Direct Tax Administration. The indirect proposal focuses on custom duty rationalization as well as rationalization of procedures and easing of compliance. 

DIRECT TAX PROPOSALS

 The Finance Minister provided relief to senior citizens in filing of income tax returns, reduced time limit for income tax proceedings announced setting up of the Dispute Resolution Committee, faceless ITAT, relaxation to NRIs, increase in exemption limit from audit and relief for dividend income.  She also announced steps to attract foreign investment into infrastructure, relief to affordable housing and rental housing, tax incentives to IFSC, relief to small charitable trusts, and steps for incentivizing Start-ups in the country. 

Sitharaman, in her Budget speech, said that in the year 2020, the income tax return filers saw a increase to 6.48 crore from 3.31 crore in 2014.

The Budget seeks to reduce compliance burden on senior citizens who are of 75 years of age and above.  Such senior citizens having only pension and interest income will be exempted from filing their income tax return.  The paying Bank will deduct the necessary tax on their income.  The Budget proposes to notify rules for removing the hardship of non-Resident Indians returning to India on the issue of their accrued incomes in their foreign retirement account.  The Budget proposes to make dividend payment to REIT/InvIT exempt from TDS.  For Foreign Portfolio Investors, the Budget proposes deduction of tax on dividend income at lower treaty rate.  The Budget provides that advanced tax liability on dividend income shall arise only after the declaration or payment of dividend.  The Minister said that this was being done as the amount of dividend income cannot be estimated correctly by the shareholders for paying advance tax. 

 The Finance Minister proposed to extend the eligibility period for claim of additional deduction for interest of Rs. 1.5 lakh paid for loan taken for purchase of an affordable house to 31st March, 2022.  In order to increase the supply of affordable houses, she also announced extension of eligibility period for claiming tax holiday for affordable housing projects by one more year to 31st March, 2022.  For promoting supply of affordable rental housing for the migrant workers, the Minister announced a new tax exemption for the notified affordable rental housing projects. 

Sitharaman announced extension in the eligibility for claiming tax holiday for start ups by one more year till 31st March, 2022.  In order to incentivize funding of start ups, she proposed extending the Capital Gains exemption for investment in start ups by one more year till 31st March, 2022. 

 The Finance Minister said that delay in deposit of the contribution of employees towards various welfare funds results in permanent loss of interest/income for the employees.  In order to ensure timely deposit of employee’s contribution to these funds by the employers, she announced that late deposit of employee’s contribution shall never be allowed as deduction to the employer. 

The Budget provides reduction in the time-limit for reopening of income tax proceeding for three years from the present six years.  In serious tax evasion cases, where there is evidence of concealment of income of Rs. 50 lakh or more in a year, the assessment can be reopened upto 10 years but only after the approval of the Principal Chief Commissioner. 

The Finance Minister said that the Direct Tax Vivad se Vishwas Scheme announced by the Government has been received well.  Until 30th January, 2021, over one lakh ten thousand tax payers have opted to settle tax dispute of over Rs. 85 thousand crores under the Scheme.  To further reduce litigation of small tax payers, she proposed to constitute a Dispute Resolution Committee.  Anyone with a taxable income upto Rs. 50 lakh and disputed income upto Rs. 10 lakh shall be eligible to approach the Committee.  She also announced setting up of National Faceless Income Tax Appellate Tibunal Centre. 

To incentivize digital transaction and to reduce the compliance burden of the person who is carrying almost all of the transactions digitally, the Budget proposes to increase the limit for tax audit for persons who are undertaking 95 per cent of their transaction digitally from Rs. 5 Crore to Rs. 10 Crore.

To attract foreign investment into infrastructure sector, the Budget proposes to relax certain conditions relating to prohibition on private funding, restriction on commercial activities and direct investment in infrastructure.  In order to allow funding of infrastructure by issue of zero coupon bonds, the Budget proposes to make notified infrastructure debt funds eligible to raise funds by issuing tax efficient zero coupon bonds. 

In order to promote International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in GIFT City, the Budget proposes more tax incentives. 

The Budget proposes that details of capital gains from listed securities, dividend income and interest from banks, post office etc. will also be pre-filled to ease filing of returns.  Details of salary income, tax payment, TDS etc already come pre-filled in returns. 

In order to reduce compliance burden on the small charitable trust running educational institutions and hospitals, the Budget proposes to increase the limit on annual receipts for these trusts from present Rs.1 Crore to Rs. 5 Crore for non-applicability of various compliances. 

INDIRECT TAX PROPOSALS

  With respect to the custom duty policy, the Finance Minister proposed to review 400 old exemptions in the custom duty structure this year.  She announced that extensive consultation will be conducted and from 1st October, 2021, a revised custom duty structure free of distortions will be put in place. She also proposed that any new custom duty exemptions henceforth will have validity upto to the 31st March following 2 years of the date of its issue. 

The Finance Minister announced withdrawal of a few exemptions on parts of chargers and sub-parts of mobile phones further some parts of mobiles will move from “NIL” rate to a moderate 2.5  per cent. She also announced reducing custom duty uniformly to 7.5 per cent on semis, flat, and long products of non-alloy and stainless steel.  She also announced exempting duty on steel scrap for a period upto 31st March 2022. 

The Finance Minister announced bringing nylon chain on par with polyester and other man-made fibers. Announcing uniform deduction of the BCD rates on Caprolactam, nylon chips and nylon fiber and yarn to 5 per cent, the Minister said this will help the textile industry, MSMEs and exports too.  She also announced calibration of customs duty rate on chemical to encourage domestic value addition and to remove inversions.  The Minister also announced rationalization of custom duty on gold and silver.

The Finance Minister said that a phased manufacturing plan for solar cells and solar panels will be notified to build up domestic capacity.  She announced raising duty on solar inverter from 5 per cent to 20 percent and on solar lanterns from 5 per cent to 15 per cent. 

She announced revision in duty rates on certain items immediately including tunnel boring machine and certain auto parts. 

 The Budget proposes certain changes to benefit MSMEs which include increasing duty on steel screws, plastic builder wares and prawn feed.  It also provide for rationalizing exemption on import of duty free items as an incentives to exporters of garments leather and handicraft items.  It also provides withdrawing exemption on imports of certain kind of leather and raising custom duty on finished synthetic gem stones. 

To benefit farmers, the Finance Minister announced raising custom duty on cotton, raw silk and silk yarn.  She also announced withdrawing end-use based concessions on denatured ethyl alcohol.  The Minister also proposed an Agriculture Infrastructure and Development Cess on a small number of items.  She said “while applying the cess, we have taken care not to put additional burden on consumers on most items. 

Regarding rationalization of procedures and easing of compliance, the Finance Minister proposed certain changes in the provisions relating to ADD and CVD levies.  She also said that to complete customs investigation, definite time-lines are being prescribed.  The Minister said that the Turant Custom Initiative rolled out in 2020 has helped in putting a check of misuse of FTAs. 

 

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COVAXIN Clinical Trials on Children Aged 2 to 18 Approved, Gap Between COVISHIELD Doses Now 12-16 weeks

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New Delhi: Faced with a shortage of vaccine, the Union government yesterday announced the extension of the gap between the first and second doses of COVISHIELD vaccine to 12-16 weeks. The present gap between the two doses of the COVISHIELD vaccine is 6-8 weeks. No change in the interval of COVAXIN vaccine doses was recommended.

The only logic behind this decision seems to cover more people for the first dose so that the fatality rate could be reduced. Further, it might take some pressure off India’s already overwhelmed healthcare services. Also, the Union government is under fire for the delay in supplying sufficient vaccine to the states to start covering the 18-44 age group. Several state including Himachal Pradesh had earlier opened the registration on April 28, but the delivery of vaccine was delayed. 

Further, Drugs Controller General of India, India’s drug regulator, on Wednesday granted permission to Bharat Biotech Ltd to conduct the Phase II/III clinical trial of Covaxin in the age group of 2 to 18 years, said the Union Health Ministry.

The Ministry said the trial will be conducted on 525 healthy volunteers who will be administered two doses of the vaccine at a gap of 28 days through intramuscular shots.

Also Read: Himachal Reports 634 Covid-19 Deaths and Over 51,000 Cases in 13 Days

Bharat Biotech had proposed to carry out a Phase- II/III clinical trial of Covaxin in the age group of 2 to 18 years, the ministry said.

“As a rapid regulatory response, the proposal was deliberated in Subject Expert Committee (SEC) (COVID-19) on May 11, 2021. The Committee after detailed deliberation recommended for grant of permission to conduct proposed Phase II/III clinical trial to certain conditions” it added.

Covaxin is India’s first domestically-developed Covid-19 vaccine. It is a two-dose jab that uses an inactivated or “dead” form of the virus. It was the first Covid-19 vaccine in the world to begin testing on children as young as 12 years of age in Phase II trials in September 2020.

Covaxin is being administered on adults (18 and above) in the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination drive in the country.

According to government statistics, the cumulative number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the country stood at 17,91,77,029 on Thursday.

The government says that 4,37,192 beneficiaries of the age group 18-44 years received their first dose of COVID vaccine on Thursday and cumulatively 39,14,688 across 32 States/UTs since the start of Phase-3 of the vaccination drive.

Himachal Pradesh Government has announced that vaccination drive would open for the 18-44 years age group from May 17, 2021.

Image by v-3-5-N-a from Pixabay

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Stop Central Vista Project, Instead Buy Oxygen and Vaccine from Allocated Funds: 12 Opposition Parties Write to PM

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stop central vista project

Shimla-As India becomes the ground zero of the worst outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic due to its indifference to early warnings by the national and international scientists/health experts and early detection of cases with the new strain, the Union Government is under fire. The nation is uncertain of government’s plan to combat the current crisis.

A few days back, the Medical Association had come down heavily upon the Union Health Ministry alleging a poor approach towards combating the spread of deadly strain and manipulation of data related to Covid-19 deaths.

Also Read: IMA Asks Govt, Why Are We Hiding the Actual Death Count? Demands Health Ministry to Wake Up from Slumber

Now, in a joint letter written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 12 opposition parties of the country have given a nine-point suggestion list for measures to be taken for effectively combating the devastation Covid-19 spread is causing.

The parties demanded that the Central Vista construction should be stayed and the government should instead procure oxygen and vaccine from the allocated fund. The parties also demanded immediate initiation of free and universal mass vaccination across the country.

This is the second joint letter written to the Prime Minister by the opposition parties. A demand to ensure an uninterrupted supply of medical oxygen and free vaccinations was raised in the first letter.

The letter is signed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, JD(S) leader H D Deve Gowda, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee, M K Stalin, Uddhav Thackeray and Hemant Soren.
“We have repeatedly in the past drawn your attention, independently and jointly, to the various measures that are absolutely imperative for the Central government to undertake and implement. Unfortunately, your government has either ignored or refused all these suggestions. This only compounded the situation to reach such an apocalyptic human tragedy,” the joint letter said.

“Without going into all the acts of commission and omission by the Central government that have brought the country to such a tragic pass, we are of the firm opinion that the following measures must be undertaken on a war footing by your government,” the letter reads.

The leaders suggested procuring vaccines centrally from all available sources- global and domestic.

They also asked the government to immediately begin a free, universal mass vaccination campaign across the country.

A suggestion to invoke compulsory licensing to expand domestic vaccine production was also made.

The leaders have also asked the government to spend the budgetary allocation of Rs. 35,000 crores for the vaccines.

“Stop Central Vista construction. Use the allocated money for procuring oxygen and vaccines, instead. Release all money held in the unaccounted private trust fund, PM Cares to buy more vaccines, oxygen and medical equipment required” the parties demanded.

A proposal to provide all jobless at least with Rs. 6000 per month and free distribution of food grains to the needy was also given. Over one crore tonnes of food-grains are currently rotting in central godowns, they added.

Lastly, they reiterated their demand to repeal farm laws to protect lakhs of ‘annadatas’ from the virus.

“Though it has not been the practice of your office or government, we would appreciate a response to our suggestions in the interests of India and our people,” the letter stated.

The other signatories are Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, National Conference leader Dr Farooq Abdullah, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, CPI general secretary D Raja and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.

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IMA Asks Govt, Why Are We Hiding the Actual Death Count? Demands Health Ministry to Wake Up from Slumber

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Indian medical Association to Health ministry

New Delhi: Indian Medical Association has come out criticizing the lackadaisical attitude of the Ministry of Health in combating the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The Association has demanded that the Health Ministry should wake up from slumber and respond to mitigate the growing challenges in the pandemic.

The Association came heavily upon the Ministry over several issues including shortage of oxygen and needed drugs and their rising prices, reluctance in imposing proper lockdown, failure to deliver the vaccine to all above 18-years in age, violence against doctors, and indifference of the ministry to the suggestions and inputs of the health professionals and experts.

The IMA, in a statement released today, said that it is astonished to see the extreme lethargy and inappropriate actions from the Ministry of health in combating the agonizing crisis born out of the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The IMA alleges that the government isn’t even considering their requests.

“The collective consciousness, proactive cognizance, and requests made by IMA and other professional learned colleagues are put into the dust bin, and often without realizing the ground realities the decisions are taken,” IMA said in the statement.

Why We Are Trying to Hide Actual Deaths? Asks IMA

The IMA alleged that the transparency in reporting and making registry is not carried out.

“’ We have lost 756 doctors in the first wave and in the second wave, more than 146 doctors have died within a short period. Hundreds of deaths happening in big hospitals are shown as non-COVID deaths and crematoriums are showing houseful boards. RTPCR negative, but CT positive cases are not counted. Why we are trying to hide actual deaths?” the IMA asked.  

The Association further said that if the public comes to know about the actual deaths, their seriousness to adopt COVID-appropriate behaviours will rise.

Further, the benefits of insurance are also denied to the victims of this pandemic when the death is not officially certified, the Association said.

Need for Complete, Planned Lockdown to Break the Chain

Further, the Association said that in the last 20 days it had been insisting on the need for complete, well-planned preannounced national lockdown rather than few states declaring complete lockdown ranging for 10 days to 15 days to getting breathing time for the health care infrastructure to recoup and replenish both the material and manpower. The Association said that lockdown will break the chain of devastating spread.

“However, the Central government had refused to head to implement lockdown resulting in the mounting of new patients beyond 4 lakhs every day and the number of moderate to severe cases is increasing to nearly 40 percent. Sporadic night curfews have not done any good. Life is precious than the economy,” the Association said.

Despite Oxygen Crisis, The Government is Not Seen at the Forefront to Solve It

The Association also took up the oxygen crisis India is facing. The crisis of oxygen is deepening every day and scores of people are succumbing to the 02 mismatch supply and it is creating panic both among patients and fraternity, the Association said.  Though there is enough production it is often the distribution is not proper. Most of the private hospitals are not getting oxygen and in every public health care place patients are crowding and suffering to get oxygen in the needed amount. The Association further added that even after 15 days of the crisis, the government is not seen at the forefront to solve these issues and resulting in people knocking at the doors of courts to get justice, resulting in judicial activism.

“Health care professional organizations are neither consulted nor the Health minister in this whole pandemic had time to interact with modern medicine professional organizations to solve this issue. Imported oxygen concentrators and oxygen plants are yet to reach the beneficiaries, the IMA said.

“IMA appeal, as the time is running out with the impending crisis lest, we deepen the crisis, solve it on a war footing,” the statement said.

Ministry Failed to Ensure Vaccination for All Above 18 Years

The Association said that the equitable, accessible, and affordable vaccination for all above at least 18 years was demanded by the IMA based on scientific facts from April 6th onwards and after persistent call. It said that the prime minister assured the nation, the vaccination drive will be started from May 1st.

“It is unfortunate the ministry has failed to make the necessarily required road map and ensure vaccine stock, resulting in the majority of the places vaccination could not be rolled out for people above 18 years,” the statement said.

The Association said that with the un humanistic differential pricing system proposed, the 15-45 age group people are forbidden to get the free vaccination from the central share of 50% and they are placed under the mercy of state governments.

The jeopardy of private practitioners and states to negotiate with manufacturers for pricing and stock resulted in exorbitant price rise and vaccine shortage, the statement said.

“In 1997 and 2014 India could declare eradication of smallpox and polio, only by adopting the universal free vaccination and not by differential pricing system When 35,000 Crore Rs were allotted in the budget, with which the maximum required 200 crore vaccine dozes are purchasable, why the central government is shedding its responsibility?” the Association asked.  

The Association said that unless the government comes out and implements with willingness and steadfastness for equitable distribution, the nation will not be able the achieve the goal. The Association pointed out that for the last 7 days no vaccine is available in small and medium private hospitals

Real Hazard Not explained in Actual Terms, Testing Decreasing Instead of Increasing

The IMA said that the mutation is a norm for RNA viruses and understanding this needs proper gene sequencing and risk assessment.

“Unless we make our self-prepared to face this by enhancing testing, we will miss the boat. Tough various mutants are identified yet the real hazard is not explained in actual terms. Dedicate experts shall be designated to study this and propose mitigation measures at the earliest. The IMA suggested for enhancing testing and tracing, but it is decreasing,” the statement said. 

Shortage of Needed Drugs Mounting, Govt Not Capping Price and Removing GST

The IMA said that the shortage of needed drugs for treating COVID including steroids is mounting in many places. Though exporting is stopped off late, production is not enhanced to the level of need, resulting in black marketing and hoarding, it said.

“More painfully spurious drugs are on the road. Price capping and systematic tracking with surveillance were suggested as a means, but the government is not interested in capping the price and remove the GST. Masks, PPE Kits, and lifesaving drugs are under GST, and rampant price rise is happening a every day,” the IMA said.

Suggestions to Augment Manpower Ignored by Govt

The Association also said that manpower shortage is dealt with knee jerk reactions than with progressive inclusive planning and consultation with suffering junior doctors.

“Most of the inputs offered to augment manpower were not adopted by the Government,” the IMA said.

Control Violence Against Doctors

The Association highlighted that violence against doctors and health care professionals is increasing. When a death occurs not due to disease but lack of infrastructure, the affected people are expressing their anger by vandalizing hospitals and health care professionals, the Association said.

“Who is going to control this? Our demand to bring in Central law against hospital violence tagged with IPC provisions and declare hospitals as protective shown couldn’t evoke any palpable response from Government,” the IMA said.

“We once again reiterate, if the violence is not controlled and a safe environment is not created for doctors to work with peace, it is going to be a disastrous situation on the health care outcome,” it said.

The IMA has also demanded that the entire health care administration should be revamped with Indian Medical Service (IMS) cadets who are well versed with the technical and administrative skill for effective execution of health care.

The Association also demanded that to establish a new integrated Ministry to serve in this pandemic with a dedicated, proactive, vibrant, innovative, and altruistic Minister and alleviate the fear of people by leading from the front.

“We propose for augmentation of infrastructure, materials, and manpower by enhancing health care budget to be rabed from 1% of GDP to minimum 8-10% OF GDP and judiciously use the earmarked budget amount for ensuring equitable and affordable Universal vaccination,” the IMA said.

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