During the Corona epidemic, the Modi government spent more on advertisements related to controversial laws such as the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Population Register and agricultural laws than it spent on the promotion of the ambitious Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Health Insurance Scheme (PMJAY).
Ayushman Bharat- Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana was started to provide financial help to the poor for better treatment in India.
In the year 2020, its scope was increased for people facing the impact of the Kovid-19 epidemic.
Using Right to Information (RTI), the BBC tried to understand the priorities of the Modi government in advertising spending during the Corona epidemic.
According to information received from RTI, between April 2020 and January 2021, the Modi government has spent a total of Rs 212 crore on advertisements.
Out of this, only 0.01 percent i.e. two lakh 49 thousand rupees have been spent on the advertisement of the government’s ambitious health insurance scheme.
This data does not include accounting for spending on outdoor media advertising (street and outdoor posters, etc.).
According to the latest Economic Survey data of the Government of India, only 3.76 percent of the people in the country take health insurance while globally around 7.23 percent take advantage of health insurance.
So where did the government spend?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have often been accused of overspending in advertisements.
Since coming to power in 2014, the government has spent a total of Rs 5,749 crore in advertisements till January 2021.
Earlier, the UPA government had spent Rs 3,582 crore on advertisements in its 10-year tenure.
The BBC wanted to investigate what the current government was spending more on.
For this, an application was sent to the ‘Bureau of Outreach and Communication’ of the Government of India under the Right to Information. This department keeps an account of the advertisements given to the government.
In response to the RTI, the bureau sent 2,000 pages of documents detailing the expenditure on government advertisements on print media, television, digital and outdoor platforms between May 2004 and January 2021.
On understanding these figures, it came to light that at the time when the Corona epidemic was wreaking havoc in the country, the government was advertising to defend some controversial laws brought in its tenure and to spread more awareness about them.
These laws included the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Agricultural Act and the National Population Register, which have been controversial in recent months.
Spending on advertisements for selected schemes during the pandemic
April 2020 to January 2021
Who knows how much about the benefits of the scheme?
In the year 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi started this health insurance scheme for Indian families with an income of less than 10 thousand rupees per month.
Modi supporters called this scheme ‘Modicare’ and claimed that this scheme is on the lines of the famous ‘Obamacare’ launched by former US President Barack Obama.
When the cases of infection increased during the first wave of the Kovid epidemic, its pressure fell on the government health system of the country, which reached a stage of creaking due to the increasing number of patients.
During this, thousands of people turned to private hospitals for treatment and for many families, arranging the necessary money became a big problem.
In such a situation, the government expanded the scope of Ayushman Bharat scheme and for many this government insurance scheme proved to be very important.
In April 2020, the government said that the cost of testing of coronavirus and treatment of Kovid-19 in private and public hospitals affiliated with the government would be covered under this insurance scheme.
Under this scheme, the beneficiaries get cashless treatment in case of hospitalization and the expenditure up to five lakhs is covered on the treatment of one family member in a year.
It was revealed through RTI that from the end of 2018 to the beginning of 2020, the government has given advertisements worth more than 25 crores to increase awareness about the Ayushman scheme.
But during the Corona epidemic, this expenditure was reduced to a great extent and more was spent on campaigns showing a positive image of the government. These include the government’s ‘Mumkin Hai’ campaign, which had the image of PM Modi at the center.
The BBC has reached out to BJP national spokesperson Nalin Kohli regarding the advertisement regarding the controversial laws versus spending on health plan advertisements, but he declined to comment on the issue.
How much benefit did people get?
Rajendra Prasad, who lives in Sikar, Rajasthan, had to pay the hospital bill despite getting registered in the Central Government’s Ayushman scheme.
Rajendra’s brother Subhash Chand has a card of the Prime Minister’s Ayushman Bharat Health Insurance Scheme. In May this year, he had to be admitted to a private hospital for treatment after a corona infection.
Rajendra told BBC correspondent Saroj Singh that he was not aware of which hospitals are listed under this government scheme.
He said, “The hospital doctor refused to accept the Ayushman Bharat Yojana card and refused to treat my brother. Now I feel that having this card is of no use to us.”
However, Aruna Rajoria, executive officer of the Rajasthan State Health Scheme, says that a link was sent to all the beneficiaries of the Ayushman scheme through SMS, which also contained the list of hospitals that are empaneled under this scheme.
However, Subhash Chand claims that he did not receive any such SMS.
How successful was PM Narendra Modi’s Ayushman Bharat Scheme?
To know how many people have taken advantage of this scheme of the central government for the treatment of corona, the BBC filed another RTI application.
In response to this RTI, it was found that till August 18, 2021, 7.07 lakh people have got the benefit of this scheme.
Till 2 September 2021, 3.3 crore cases of corona infection have been registered in India and 4 lakh 40 thousand people have died due to this disease.
About 13 crore families in India have the card of Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Health Insurance Scheme.
According to the latest government data, there are 10.74 crore families and more than 50 crore individual beneficiaries under this scheme. This is the 40 percent of India’s population that is below the poverty line.
The BBC contacted the National Health Authority (NHA) for more information about the expenditure on advertisements to raise awareness about the health scheme, but the authority did not respond.
What was the priority during the pandemic?
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, headed by Rajya Sabha MP Ram Gopal Yadav, had expressed concern over the lack of awareness among the beneficiaries about the Ayushman Bharat scheme.
In its report presented in November 2020, the committee said that many beneficiaries of Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Health Insurance Scheme were not aware that under this scheme, the treatment of Kovid-19 and testing of corona virus can be done free of cost. Is.
The committee said that during the Corona epidemic, the government should have made more efforts to increase awareness among the people about this scheme.
Dr Chandrakant Laharia, a specialist in public policy and medical infrastructure, says, “A scheme through which cashless healthcare facilities can be provided to 40 per cent of the population, mostly from the underprivileged, is a boon to the lower strata of the society. can be proved.”
Dr Laharia says that this scheme could not prove to be helpful for many needy people because most of the beneficiaries did not know what benefits could be available under it because it was not widely publicized.
In the budget of the Central Government for the year 2021-22, Rs 6,400 crore has been allocated for the Ayushman Bharat scheme.
A similar provision was made in the budget of the central government for the last two years i.e. 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. This is about 8.98 percent of the total budget allocation for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The year in which this scheme was launched, an allocation of Rs 2,400 crore was made for it.