Increased emphasis on tech solutions in new areas
While the focus on technology is clear in the Union Budget, experts and industry veterans cautioned that implementation will hold the key to success
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her budget speech on Tuesday in parliament, indicated that the government plans to implement technology-driven solutions in a wide range of areas including agriculture, logistics, infrastructure development and finance.
From digital assets and payments, blockchain and artificial intelligence, to drones for farmers and agricultural services, her speech was heavily loaded with technical terms. But it was not all talk about incentives as the Indian government has done in the last two years -- this year’s Budget seems to focus on implementation.
For instance, instead of providing incentives for the development of blockchain technology within the country, Sitharaman announced the formation of a central bank digital currency (CBDC) -- a move that has been in the works for a while now.
“Overall, the digitisation theme is being carried forward and will be the backbone for new investments in education, healthcare, agriculture, banking, payments, and also to streamline government procurement & payments,” noted P.N. Sudarshan, partner and TMT leader, Deloitte India.
In her budget speech, Sitharaman also said the government will launch a public private partnership (PPP) scheme for “delivery of digital and hi-tech services” to farmers.
“Use of ‘Kisan Drones’ will be promoted for crop assessment, digitisation of land records, spraying insecticides, and nutrients,” she added. In addition, states will be “encouraged to revise syllabi of agricultural universities” to facilitate organic farming, modern-day agriculture and more” she said.
Further, the Budget also announced the creation of a fund that will be facilitated through the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard), to finance startups and “rural enterprise” relevant for farm produce value chains.
“The activities for these startups will include inter-alia, support for farmer produce organisations (FPOs), machinery for farmers on rental basis at farm level, and technology, including IT-based support,” the finance minister said during her speech.
To be sure, the government also announced the issuance of electronic passports, or e-passports, which will use embedded chips. These are set to roll out in 2022-23, and should facilitate contactless immigration and more. Countries like Singapore, etc. already have scanners which allow passports to be scanned instead of being manually entered into a database.
The focus on implementing technology wasn’t limited to business use cases alone. The minister also announced a Unified Logistics Interface Platform (ULIP), which will be driven by an application programming interface (API) to facilitate the “efficient movement of goods through different modes, logistics cost and time”.
Reskilling was another focus area. According to Nitin Bansal, managing director, India at telecom firm Ericsson, the Digital Ecosystem for Skilling and Livelihood stack, or the DESL-Stack e-portal, announced in the Budget will help upskill Indian youth “as per industry needs” and help fill talent and skill gaps in the industry. The DESL stack, according to the Sitharaman’s speech, aims to skill, reskill and upskill citizens through online training.
Like the ULIP, the DESL stack will also be API-driven. API driven platforms allow others to build apps and services on top of them. APIs are at the core of how apps like Uber or Zomato can tap into something like Google Maps for navigation, instead of having to build their own mapping service.
Other than platforms and services, Sitharaman also said infrastructure status will be granted to the data centre industry, which acts as the backbone of most digital services. As reported by Mint last week, data centre players like Equinix, Ctrls Datacentres and more had also sought industry status from the budget, however, industry players said that granting infra status is a good start too.
“Infrastructure status allows data centres to play a key role in enabling digital economy, as it allows access to foreign investments (FDI) and private capital; borrow funds at lower cost and thereby allowing rapid deployment of data centers across the country,” said B.S.Rao, vice president, marketing, CtrlS Datacenters.
While the focus on technology is clear here, experts and industry veterans cautioned that implementation will hold the key to success.
“Much of these (policies) are about adopting or operationalising mature tech -– e-passports have been well in use worldwide and there is no reason why India shouldn’t be adopting them. And it’s high time we got 5G rolling, and so yes, I fully expect to see spectrum auctions happen,” said tech policy analyst Prasanto K. Roy.
“Some of the ambitious ones, like kisan drones, I expect, will be pilots rather than have widespread impact. There’s a lot of basic technology gaps in agriculture to fill, including replacing crop burning,” he concluded.
With inputs from Moumita Deb Choudhury and Vignesh Anantharaj.