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SCs, STs set to benefit big time from Modi’s mega healthcare scheme

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40 per cent of Ayushman Bharat beneficiaries are SCs and STs even though they form a smaller proportion of India’s population.

New Delhi: Ayushman Bharat, the Modi government’s ambitious healthcare programme, could end up bringing more political dividends to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections than originally estimated.

The reason: Forty per cent, or 4.21 crore of the 10.5 crore families selected as beneficiaries under the flagship National Health Protection Mission, belong to the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe category, according to data accessed by ThePrint.

Also read: Ayushman Bharat explained – The scheme, the beneficiaries, the inspiration

Although this proportion is higher than the overall proportion of SCs and STs in the country’s population, some experts said it may not be such a huge surprise as the healthcare programme targets the underprivileged.

According to the 2011 census, SCs comprise 16.6 per cent of the population and STs 8.6 per cent. Under Ayushman Bharat, SCs represent 19 per cent of beneficiaries and STs 22 per cent.

“The representation of SCs and STs is huge in the scheme in comparison to the overall presence in the country. It is probably because the initiative caters to the bottom 40 per cent of the population of India and it may contain more SCs and STs,” said Himanshu, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University who was a part of the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) data collection team from 2010 to 2016.

Ayushman Bharat, touted as the world’s largest government-funded healthcare scheme, was to be launched on 15 August this year. Citing hurdles, however, the government has opted for a phased rollout and has launched the scheme on a pilot basis in eight states.

Also read: Modi’s Ayushman Bharat is the jadi booti you mix with your vote and drink

In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that it would now be rolled out on 25 September, the birth anniversary of RSS-BJP ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya.

“The scheme will provide an (insurance) cover of Rs 5 lakh per year to 50 crore individuals across income groups… We will be holding experiments in this sector for the next 6-7 weeks after which we will officially roll out the scheme,” Modi had said.

The ‘vulnerable’ families under the project

Of the 10.5 crore ‘vulnerable’ families selected as beneficiaries under the scheme, around 8 crore families are based in rural areas whereas the remaining families are settled in urban areas.

Overall, around 49 per cent of the selected families belong to primitive tribal groups whereas 30 per cent of them are legally released bonded labour. These are followed by families of manual scavengers, destitute families living on alms and families which were living without shelters.

Also read: Expired medicines, no doctors & equipment – What audit of India’s govt health scheme found

Using the 2011 SECC data, the government has also divided the beneficiaries on the basis of their profession — the majority of users are construction workers, plumbers, and masons followed by beggars, domestic workers, street vendors, cobblers, sweepers, washermen and electricians.

Majority young beneficiaries

A majority of the 47.3 crore beneficiaries belong to the 25-44 years age group.

The representation of those in the 65-80 years age group, the segment most likely to require medical care, is minimal. “Older poor are more likely to die than the better off ones or be invisible in censuses and surveys. I haven’t verified these numbers but these could contribute to their under representation. There need to be systems in place, involving local governments, to include the invisible population onto NHPM rolls,” said Oommen C. Kurian, fellow, Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

The representation of male and female as beneficiaries is almost equal with men accounting for 52 per cent of the beneficiaries.

The government, however, is yet to trace 65 lakh families it had identified as beneficiaries.

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