Social sector asks double tax on ‘sin’ goods, higher health outlay

New Delhi, Jan 12 (IANS) Social sector representatives at a pre-Budget 2016-17 meeting with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesdaydemanded doubling the allocation for the health sector and a higher rate of “sin tax” on tobacco and alcohol.

They also sought that the allocation under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme be increased by Rs.5,000 crore and provision in the forthcoming budget for spending 10 percent of the GDP on education.

“Right now spending on health is 1.2 percent. It should be at least 2.5 percent,” Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, chief executive of Voluntary Health Association of India told reporters following the meeting.

“Most of the suggestions centred around social security schemes and Rashtriya Bima Yojana. We have asked for Rs.5,000 crore additional funds under MNREGS, because there was drought and no work for poor people,” said HelpAge India board member Mathew Cherian.

The social sector groups told the finance minister that India has one of the lowest per capita investments in health and is under threat from both communicable and non-communicable diseases.

“Non-communicable diseases are arising out of sin products like tobacco and alcohol. So we recommended specific taxation of tobacco products, particularly cigarettes, bidi and smokeless products. We want excise duty to be doubled,” Mukhopadhyay said.

They said the revenue generated from extra duties on sin products should be utilised for the development of workers who manufacture such items.

Members of the delegation also demanded that the old age pension be increased to Rs.500 per month per person for those between 60-79 years and Rs.1,000 per month for those above 80 years.

Right to Education (RTE) Forum national convener Ambarish Rai said the central government should increase spending on education to 10 percent of GDP, from the current 4 percent. He also asked for recruiting qualified teachers in government schools which is facing a shortage of over 9 lakh teachers.

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