Finance Minister Piyush Goyal presented the 2019-20 fiscal budget, the current government’s final budget before the elections. Amidst no taxes on income up to INR 5 lakh, an annual farmer income support scheme of INR 6,000, interest subvention scheme for farm loan takers, and new pension scheme for unorganised sector workers, along with higher allocation for rural schemes, like MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act) and village roads, Goyal also said that a National Programme on ‘Artificial Intelligence’ has been envisaged by the government.
“In order to take the benefits of Artificial Intelligence and related technologies to the people, a National Programme on ‘Artificial Intelligence’ has been envisaged by our Government. This would be catalysed by the establishment of the National Centre on Artificial Intelligence as a hub along with Centres of Excellence. Nine priority areas have been identified. A National Artificial Intelligence portal will also be developed soon,” ET quoted from the budget speech.
The government, which is preparing to launch fifth-generation (5G) technology in India to keep the country at par with global 5G advancements, has also been leveraging on technologies like AI, Machine Learning, and blockchain.
The tech community has welcomed the announcement as an important and much needed push in the digital technologies industry, especially AI and ML.
Atul Rai, CEO and Co-Founder of Gurgaon based AI startup, Staqu, told The Tech Panda, “The government has been banking on digital technologies such as AI, machine learning, big data, and more. Thus, in the interim budget we had expected a significant boost by the government. We are glad to find out the government’s plans of developing a National Artificial Intelligence portal, which will significantly boost research and development measures in the field of Artificial Intelligence.”
Aakrit Vaish, CEO and Co-Founder of Haptik, the conversational AI platform, told The Tech Panda, “With the announcement of National Artificial Intelligence portal, we expect India to be propelled on the path of leveraging advanced and disruptive technologies for economic prosperity and growth. We congratulate the government for this forward-looking budget.”
Goyal also said that the ‘Make in India’ programme has brought about a rise in the number of mobile and parts manufacturing companies from 2 to more than 268, bringing about job opportunities. “Digital Infrastructure and digital economy of 2030 will be built upon the successes achieved in recent years in digitisation of government processes and private transactions. Our youth will lead us in this endeavour with innumerable startups creating digital India, and millions of jobs in this eco-system,” he said.
The Indian healthtech sector, in recent years, has been imbibing AI and other technologies in order to provide better services. This sector too sees the announcement as an encouragement for further development in the near future.
Ashish Gupta, CEO of healthtech platform, Docprime.com, told The Tech Panda that the interim budget presents some encouraging possibilities for the social and healthcare sector. “While the details are still to be studied, it is reassuring to see the official recognition of Artificial Intelligence with the announcement of the National Artificial Intelligence Centre and National AI Portal. AI is critical for the healthcare sector to mitigate the unfavourable doctor-patient ratio in India, which is further compounded by the rich-poor and urban-rural divide,” he said.
“This combined with the 2030 vision of 1 lakh digital villages could help transform the way healthcare is delivered in the country. We do hope these initiatives will be rolled out effectively and fuel a spurt of healthcare innovation in the country,” he added.
While most are calling the budget a please-all balancing act of populism and pragmatism in an election year, not all are satisfied with the contents of the budget announcement. Manisha Bansal, Co-Founder of peer-to-peer (P2P) online lending platform, i2iFunding, told The Tech Panda that there is not much for the fintech sector in the budget.
“Government recognition of India as a second startup hub does not really help the startup ecosystem. There is nothing in the budget for the fintech sector. The only saving grace is the exemption limit to individuals upto INR 5 lakhs, which is expected to boost not only consumption but will also help improve the economic activity in the sector. We need a focused thrust in ease of doing business for startups to bring about a meaningful difference.”
i2iFunding’s Co-founder Raghavendra Pratap Singh, told The Tech Panda that the budget was not enough for the youth of the country.
“This was indeed a big ‘thank you’ budget for the middle class and the people in the unorganized sector, who fully supported the government through two watershed moments of demonetization and GST. The budget will put more money in the pockets of the needy through the direct support of INR 6,000 to marginal farmers, tax savings due to doubling of the basic income tax slab to INR 5 lakhs, which is expected to benefit the 3 crore-strong middle class, and assured pension of INR 3000 per month to nearly 10 crore labourers in the unorganized sector. This is good for people who already have employment, but what about the 5 million people joining the workforce each year?”
He pointed out that the budget remained silent on the “Startup India, Stand Up India” initiative led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The need of the hour is to create more jobs by supporting budding entrepreneurs to create home-grown giants who can compete with the likes of Google, Facebook, Alibaba etc. Freebies may get votes but is not a long-term solution,” he added.
However, there are still others who feel the announcements do support the startup ecosystem, paving the way for creation of more jobs in the future.
Mayank Bhangadia, CEO & Co-Founder, Roposo, the short video platform, opined that the government had indeed delivered a promised. “The government has delivered what it promised. The budget is, indeed, a huge relief for anyone and everyone. From farmers to startups, every person in India will benefit from this budget. It was really important to digitise rural India and show them the importance of the Internet. The announcements of digitising 1 lakh digital villages in the next 5 years will prove to be just that. Tax exemption – the biggest announcement – is a massive relief for the middle class. Entrepreneurship is being promoted, which will clearly lead to jobs being created. The government has picked the pulse of job creation by boosting entrepreneurship, something which will most definitely lead to creation of jobs, especially for the youth. If that was not enough, the budget has taken care of unskilled labourers as well,” he told The Tech Panda.
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