March 15, 2019 / 1:11 PM / 7 months ago

India's main opposition promises to spend more on health if voted back

NEW DELHI, March 15 (Reuters) - India’s main opposition Congress party said on Friday it would more than double healthcare spending in five years if voted back to power, adding to a growing list of promises to try to woo voters away from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party.

Congress will lift the expenditure on healthcare to 3 percent of GDP by 2024, provide free diagnostics and medicines through a network of public hospitals, establish more medical colleges and give financial support to medical students, party leader and former finance minister P. Chidambaram said on Twitter.

Asia’s third biggest economy spent an estimated 1.4 percent of its GDP on healthcare in 2017/18, among the lowest proportions in the world.

“The biggest cause of falling back into poverty is healthcare,” Congress President Rahul Gandhi said at a political rally weeks before India starts voting in a general election on April 11.

“So healthcare is, in a sense, a foundation and we have to ensure that foundation is built firmly.”

He said Congress was working on developing legislation that would guarantee certain mininum healthcare to all Indians.

India currently ranks 130 out of 189 countries in the U.N. human development ranking, reflecting insufficient spending on health, education and income parameters, despite the economy growing at more than 7 percent a year for more than a decade.

Congress earlier proposed to increase spending on education to 6 percent of GDP by 2023/24 - up from an estimated 2.7 percent in 2018 - and provide a minimum income guarantee for the poor.

These proposals come just as pollsters say Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has an advantage after Indian armed forces clashed with those of arch rival Pakistan.

The BJP dismissed the Congress announcements as lacking credibility.

“If somebody spends 6 percent on education, we are not saying it is bad. But the issue is resource mobilisation, how it will happen,” party spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal said. “You have to come out with a complete roadmap.”

A government adviser who previously worked with Congress’ Chidambaram said that revenue collections grow at an average of about 14 percent a year, and that any increase in spending on education, health and rural welfare programmes could be funded partly through that. (Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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