Crafting an Equivalent of Ayushman Bharat for the Health of Small Enterprises

The Ayushman Bharat - Pradhan Mantri Jan ArogyaYojana (PM-JAY) is an incredible initiative. It is the largest of its kind, the world over, and perhaps one of the most ambitious, life-changing schemes for Indians in the domain of healthcare.

Similarly, to have a truly long term Ayushman Bharat in the truest sense of the term, it becomes imperative to look at the financial health of the enterprise ecosystem of Bharat. Making it strong, robust, and sustainable is akin to insuring the survival, health, and growth of millions of enterprises at the grass-root level and thereby, the financial health of micro-entrepreneurs.

There are numerous ailments that afflict micro-enterprises. Most predominant among these are financial challenges of indebtedness and lack of financial expertise, lack of access to capital at reasonable rates of interest, and absence of credit history within the formal financial sector. These are issues that are best addressed by micro-finance institutions.

The RBI describes microfinance as a form of financial service which provides small loans and other financial services to poor and low-income households. It is an economic tool designed to promote financial inclusion which enables the poor and low-income households to come out of poverty, increase their income levels and improve overall living standards. Supporting micro-finance institutions with adequate capital and policy facilitation can go a long way towards mitigating the financial challenges of the micro-enterprise sector.

Additionally, attention will need to be paid to other crucial functions, like access to quality raw materials at reasonable rates and marketing goods, as these could become bottlenecks in their progress. According to the Seventh Five Year Plan, micro and small enterprises face issues of technological obsolescence, inadequate and irregular supply of raw materials, lack of organized market channels, imperfect knowledge of market conditions, unorganized nature of operations, inadequate availability of credit facility, the constraint of infrastructure facilities including power, and deficient managerial and technical skills.

Typically, micro-enterprises suffer from combinations of these ailments, and curing one or two in isolation will not enable them to achieve good health and progress. They require holistic diagnosis and regular mentoring until they can be certified as healthy and on the path to sustainable growth.

To draw these business units out of the morass, all stakeholders will have to commit unprecedented efforts. The center and states will have to digitize and sync their records and schemes; the public and private sector financiers and nodal mentoring agencies will have to work shoulder to shoulder to ensure that the necessary infrastructure – be it financial, physical, human resources, logistical or digital, is in place. And last, but not the least, government policies support pragmatic progress and facilitate the mission.

The Government and financial institutions have made numerous efforts over the years, to facilitate this segment. These have been momentous in their own way. However, a mission of the size and scale of the Ayushman Bharat Yojana is required to deliver effective results at a nationwide level.

In recent times, India has demonstrated the ability to successfully achieve colossal country-wide missions, such as the Covid19 vaccination drive and before it, the Aadhaar initiative. Its current efforts towards achieving the targets of the Ayushman Bharat are laudable too. There is no doubt that a visionary endeavor to ensure the health of level micro-level enterprises could have multifarious benefits. Beyond ensuring the well-being of people, it will contribute to building a new India by enhancing productivity, reducing financial hardship, creating jobs, and boosting activity in the economy as a whole, as backward and forward linked sectors witness increased activity too.