Do we need bullet trains or hospital beds first?

To be a developed country of 5-trillion dollar economy, do we need first bullet trains or enough ventilators? Do we need hospital beds, instead of converting train berths into temporary beds? Should we revamp our Parliament house or build a few hospitals? These are million dollar questions that would throw up divided mandate, because we are still a nation divided by political ideologies, party lines, castes, logics, cultures, languages etc.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy recently asked the Government to shelve the Rs 20,000 crore plan for the revamping of the Parliament House. Now Congress President Sonia Gandhi too has suggested the same. After all, this new building is for our most elite class – MPs—only, not for the common man.

In another part of the country, we are working on an ambitious bullet train project worth 1,08,000 crore that will primarily benefit another elite class – the diamon merchants of Gujarat. We also have a statue at the cost of Rs 3000 crore.

On the other hand, 1000 people in India scramble for a `half bed’, whether it is corona or not. And we have less than 25,000 ventilators for our 1.3 billion people.

Do we need bullet trains or ventilators? Do we need hospital beds or splashy central hall? It seems that we can still agree on some priorities at least during this time of corona. A greater danger should unite even the bitterest enemies, that is what the nature would tell us.

Even Swamy and Sonia agree on one thing

Sonia and family must be fighting a case filed by Swamy. They are the best known enemies in the political world. But both have agreement on one thing at least—suspend the Rs 20,000 crore ‘Central Vista’ beautification and construction project.

Interestingly, the Government work is still on for this project even during the days of corona. The government recently notified the land use change of over 86-acre area in Lutyens’ Delhi. The project to redesign the power corridor will include construction of a new triangular-shaped Parliament, new PM residence, and 10 new building blocks to accommodate government offices.

Why we need it now? Even Sonia Gandhi says that we have a very good heritage building which is enough. The government may have reduced the salaries of the MPs. But in fact, the Centre spent Rs 2.7 lakh on an MP per month. On the other hand, the per capita health spend in India is just Rs 1600 per year.

Rs 1 lakh crore for Bullet Train 

It is another ambitious project worth Rs 1,08,000 crore, whereas the total health budget for the country is just Rs 67,000 crore. The bullet train, connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad will primarily benefit the rich diamond merchants who want to travel fast between the two cities. And we cannot assume how many common people will travel in it, if it is ready by 2023.

Even the developed countries like America never dared to have a bullet train. The average flight ticket is around Rs 3000 between the two cities. It is estimated that the ticket cost in the bullet train will be four times higher the airfare.

Healthcare is not important as bullet trains

According to the data from National Health Profile–2019, there are 7,13,986 total government hospital beds available for the 135 crore people. This amounts to 0.55 beds per 1000 population which is a far cry from the world average of 2.7 per 1000. We should not dare to compare it with some covid struggle countries like US (2.9), Italy (3.4), China (4.2) and European Union (5.6).

Take the case of critical care, we will be still stressed. As per the Intensive Care Medicine journal utilizing 2012 data, Italy had 12.5 ICU beds per 100,000 people and Germany had 29.2 ICU beds. Some data in 2015 shows that the US has 34.2 ICU beds. And in India, it is just 2.3 beds for our one lakh people.

We have 7,13,986 total government beds and 5% of them could be ICU beds with ventilators. Currently, India’s GDP for health is less than 1.5 per cent. With almost all neighbouring countries investing 2-3 per cent of GDP, the country has one of the lowest in the world. The out-of-pocket health expenditure for households is extraordinarily high at 65%. The healthcare allocation in the Union Budget 2020-21 was Rs 67,484 crore against the revised estimate of Rs 63,830 crore.

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