Union Budget 2018: Announcements that impact the Indian technology sector

From a national program on artificial intelligence to exploring blockchain in payment systems, India's Union Budget of 2018 gives major push to the technology sector.

Here are the major announcements of this year's financial budget that directly or indirectly impact the tech sector in India.

Cryptocurrencies not a legal tender in India

Arun Jaitley announced that although the government is exploring the use of blockchain technology in digital payments. he maintained his early stance on the status of crytocurrencies, stating they are not a legal tender of to exchange goods and services.

"The government does not consider cryptocurrencies as legal tender or coin," announced Jaitley. According to the finance minister, cryptocurrencies are being used for money laundering and funding of illicit activities. But his stance on the underneath technology is positive. "The government will explore use of block chain technology proactively for ushering in digital economy," added Jaitley.

In another announcement related to the finance sector. Jaitley said that a group in the ministry of finance is actively working on "institutional development measures" in order to create a healthy ecosystem so that Indian fintech companies can grow.

Expanding telecom infrastructure with BharatNet

Union Budget will allocate Rs10,000 crore this year to further scale the telecom infrastructure. The project aims to provide fast internet (100 Mbps) to 5 crore Indians by setting up 500,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across 250,000  gram panchayats in the country by March 2019. Jaitley also stated the further development of 5G in tie-up with IIT Chennai, and plans the public roll out of the technology standards by 2020.

Boost to AI and IoT

Jaitley put aside 3,073 crore rupees giving a major boost move to R&D in cutting-edge IT technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT) in India by the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

“To invest in research training, and skilling in robotics, AI, digital manufacturing, big data intelligence, quantum communications and art of the things, the DST will launch a mission on cyber space in support of establishment of centre of excellence. I have doubled their allocation on the digital India program to Rs 3,073 crore in 2018-19,” announced Jaitley. Jaitley also added that a national program will be set up by the Niti Aayog for the research and development in the field of artificial intelligence.

Expansion of technology in education

Jaitley emphasized the role of technology in expanding the education sector. He announced the government is planning on launching ‘Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022, with Rs 1 lakh crore of budgetary allocations in the coming four years. “Technology will be the biggest driver in improving the quality of education. We propose to increase the digital intensity in education and move gradually from blackboard to digital board,” Jaitley said. According to the finance minister, the government plans to replace black boards with digital boards in schools across the nation by 2022.
Unique IDs for enterprises

In line with individual unique IDs for Indian enter, Jaitley has proposed the setting up of giving unique IDs to all enterprises in India. “Aadhaar has provided an identity to every Indian. Aadhaar has eased delivery of so many public services to our people. Every enterprise, major or small, also needs a unique identity,” Jaitley said. He further announced that the government also plans to implement "372 basic business reform actions” to enhance the ease of doing doing business in India.

Promotion of startups

Although there was no announcement related to removing the angel tax on startup investments, Jaitley announced that the government is working towards creating a startup ecosystem. "We have taken a number of policy measures including the launch of Start-Up India program, building very robust alternative investment regime in the country and rolling out a taxation regime designed for the special nature of the VCFs and the angel investors, stated the finance minister. The angle tax remains at 30 percent, having caused massive drop in angel funding over the past year, according to Nasscom. 

Smart Cities

One of the biggest budgetary tech allocations came with the Smart Cities Mission. With a budget allocation of Rs 2.04 lakh crore (approx. 31.25 billion USD) spread across 99 cities, the Smart City Mission aims on implementing "state-of-the-art amenities". "I am happy to inform that 99 Cities have been selected with an outlay of Rs 2.04 lakh crore. These cities have started implementing various projects like smart Command and Control Center (CCC), smart roads, solar rooftops, intelligent transport systems, smart parks." 

National Logistics Portal

Jaitley announced that the government is planning on linking all the logistics chains running across the country through an online portal. Jaitley announced that the setting up of National Logistics Portal through the Department of Commerce will serve as a single window online platform  to connect all stakeholders in the logistics industry.