The Union Budget 2023-24 outlined several initiatives to drive India’s technology agenda and boost digital infrastructure, including new centres of excellence for artificial intelligence, National Data Governance Policy, and Entity DigiLocker.
Presenting the Union Budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman asserted that India’s rising global profile is because of several accomplishments such as unique world-class digital public infrastructure, entailing Aadhaar, Co-Win and UPI. She spoke of tech infrastructure and digital ecosystem as well as measures in new-age areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 5G.
Mobile phones manufacturing
The budget also proposed to deepen the domestic value addition in mobile phone manufacturing through customs duty relief on the import of certain parts and inputs like camera lens. “Our vision for the Amrit Kaal includes technology-driven and knowledge-based economy with strong public finances, and a robust financial sector,” Sitharaman said.
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On high-tech production, the finance minister said that as a result of various initiatives of the government, including the ‘Phased Manufacturing’ programme, mobile phone production in India has increased from 5.8 crore units valued at about Rs 18,900 crore in 2014-15 to 31 crore units valued at over Rs 2,75,000 crore in the last financial year.
“To further deepen domestic value addition in the manufacture of mobile phones, I propose to provide relief in customs duty on import of certain parts and inputs like camera lens and continue the concessional duty on lithium-ion cells for batteries for another year,” she said.
AI centres of excellence
To unleash innovation and research by start-ups and academia, a National Data Governance Policy will be brought out, she said adding this will enable access to anonymised data. Further, three centres of excellence for Artificial Intelligence will be set up in top educational institutions for realising the vision of `’Make AI in India and Make AI work for India’, she said.
“Leading industry players will partner in conducting interdisciplinary research, develop cutting-edge applications and scalable problem solutions in the areas of agriculture, health, and sustainable cities. This will galvanise an effective AI ecosystem and nurture quality human resources in the field,” Sitharaman said.
Digital public infrastructure
She said digital public infrastructure for agriculture will be built as an open source, open standard and inter-operable public good. “This will enable inclusive, farmer-centric solutions through relevant information services for crop planning and health, improved access to farm inputs, credit, and insurance, help for crop estimation, market intelligence, and support for growth of agri-tech industry and start-ups,” she noted.
Among other digital touchpoints, a National Digital Library for children and adolescents will be set up for facilitating availability of quality books across geographies, languages, genres and levels, and device agnostic accessibility.
The finance minister said the KYC process will be simplified by adopting a risk-based instead of one-size-fits-all approach. The financial sector regulators will also be encouraged to have a KYC system fully amenable to meet the needs of Digital India.
“Fintech services in India have been facilitated by our digital public infrastructure including Aadhaar, PM Jan Dhan Yojana, Video KYC, India Stack and UPI. To enable more Fintech innovative services, the scope of documents available in DigiLocker for individuals will be expanded,” Sitharaman said.
An ‘Entity DigiLocker’ will be set up for use by MSMEs, large business and charitable trusts. This will be towards storing and sharing documents online securely, whenever needed, with various authorities, regulators, banks and other business entities.
On 5G services, Sitharaman said 100 labs for developing applications using 5G services will be set up in engineering institutions to realise a new range of opportunities, business models, and employment potential. The labs will cover, among others, applications such as smart classrooms, precision farming, intelligent transport systems, and health care applications.
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Also, digital ecosystem for skilling will be further expanded with the launch of a unified Skill India Digital platform for enabling demand-based formal skilling; linking with employers including MSMEs; and, facilitating access to entrepreneurship schemes.
Digital payments up
Sitharaman highlighted that digital payments continue to gain ground. “Digital payments continue to find wide acceptance. In 2022, they show an increase of 76 per cent in transactions and 91 per cent in value. Fiscal support for this digital public infrastructure will continue in 2023-24,” she said.
Entrepreneurship, she said, is vital for a country’s economic development, and a number of measures for start-ups have been taken and “have borne results”.
“India is now the third largest ecosystem for start-ups globally, and ranks second in innovation quality among middle-income countries. I propose to extend the date of incorporation for income tax benefits to start-ups from 31.03.23 to 31.3.24. I further propose to provide the benefit of carry forward of losses on change of shareholding of start-ups from seven years of incorporation to 10 years,” the finance minister said.
(With Agency inputs)