A Digital setting
Union Finance Minister Ms Nirmala Sitaraman carrying a tablet in a red coloured traditional bahi khatta cover was in sharp contrast to the previous finance ministers carrying the budget speech in a brief case to Parliament. Each set of budget papers, distributed to the MPs and media persons, weighed about five kilograms! Welcome, digitalisation of Indian Budget 2022.
Ditching the practice, Ms Sitaraman made a powerful statement that the budget was focussed on digital India and indeed it was. Throughout her speech, the digital theme of the budget cropped up time and again as she laid emphasis on digital technologies and start-ups across sectors from education and agriculture to banking and even post offices and more.
The Budget has also been made available on a mobile app after the presentation of the Budget. The App facilitates complete access to all Union Budget documents, including the Annual Financial Statement, Demand for Grants (DG) and Financial Bill as prescribed by the Constitution.
But carrying the budget proposal in a tablet and making references to the digital theme was not just symbolic. The huge thrust for digitalisation that the budget proposals have provided is the major highlight of the budget 2022-23.
Thrust on digitalisation with Indian Budget 2022
The proposals are aimed at giving a special push for building up and strengthening digitalisation in a wide variety of sectors ranging from education to infrastructure and from agriculture to banking.
Among the announcements was the creation of an application programming interface-based platform for the transportation sector that will integrate data from road operators to slash costs of logistics and time. The recognition of data centres as infrastructure is aimed at easing the financing of the sector. This would enable the country to become a strong data player.
Digitalisation in Education
In the field of education, the finance minister proposed to set up a digital university to provide education that will be built on a hub and spoke model. It is presumed that the model would involve regional platforms. For providing supplementary education to students to make up for the loss of formal education due to the Covid pandemic, she spoke of the implementation of one-class, one-TV Channel programme. It would also involve the plan to connect all villages with optical fibre by 2025. Another proposal related to education was the setting up of a digital university with a personalised learning experience that will make higher education more accessible and equitable.
Digitalisation in Health
As regards the health sector, an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem is to be rolled out through the launch of a ‘National Tele Mental Health Programme’ for quality mental health counselling and care services. For this purpose a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence will be set up, with NIMHANS being the nodal centre and International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIITB) providing technology support. It would enable the citizens to own their medical data and not the doctors or the hospitals. Citizens will have the authority and option of tracking or sharing their medical records as and when they find it appropriate.
Digitalisation in Agriculture
In the field of agriculture, the budget proposals seek to bring in technology for the benefit of the farmers. One of the proposals is that ‘Kisan Drones’ will be promoted for crop assessment, digitisation of land records, spraying of insecticides, and nutrients. A scheme in PPP mode will be launched for the delivery of digital and hi-tech services to farmers. It also proposed setting up a fund with blended capital, raised under the co-investment model, to finance startups for agriculture and rural enterprise, relevant for farm produce value chain.
Digitalisation in Banking
To provide a further thrust to the banking sector, which includes digital banking and digital payments, the budget has proposed to set up 75 Digital Banking Units in 75 districts of the country by Scheduled Commercial Banks. Also, the financial support for the digital payment ecosystem announced in the previous Budget will continue in the coming financial year.
Indication of a digital Rupee
The finance minister also made another significant statement of government policy when she provided indication of the government’s acceptability of cryptocurrency. There was a fear that the government could place a ban on virtual assets. The proposal on tax gains made on crypto transactions by investors at 30 per cent has come as a respite for the country’s crypto startups and has legitimatised such transactions. Another digitalisation push is the announcement that the Reserve Bank of India will come out with a digital rupee later this year.
The promised rollout of 5G services in the country, proliferation of broadband services in rural areas and boost to local manufacturing under the productivity linked incentive scheme, are bound to provide a further thrust to digitalisation in the country. She announced that 5G spectrum auctions will be conducted this year to facilitate commercial service rollout by private companies by the next year. It could prove to be a game changer for digitalisation in the country which is aiming to evolve into a $5 trillion economy. Technology-driven startups are going to play a crucial role in achieving this goal. The key, however, would be an effective implementation of the proposals.