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View from India: Budget 2023-24 focuses on green growth, digital economy and AI


The Union Budget 2023-2024 has announced several new initiatives that could carry the promise of employment and enhance economic prosperity.

The 2023-2024 Budget hopes to build on the foundation laid in the previous Budget and the blueprint drawn for India@100. “India’s rising global profile is because of several accomplishments: unique world-class digital public infrastructure, for example Aadhaar, Co-Win and UPI, and Covid vaccination drive in unparalleled scale and speed; proactive role in frontier areas such as achieving the climate related goals, mission LiFE, and National Hydrogen Mission,” said Union Finance Minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman.   

The future seems to be moving towards green growth with the implementation of programmes for green fuel, green energy, green farming, green mobility, green buildings and green equipment, and policies for efficient use of energy across various economic sectors. These efforts help in reducing carbon intensity of the economy and provide for large-scale green job opportunities. “Production target of 5MT green hydrogen will lead to an associated capacity addition in renewable energy of 110GW-130GW,” said Hetal Gandhi, director at CRISIL Research, Market Intelligence & Analytics. “The projected investment in the green hydrogen ecosystem is around ₹ 8 lakh crore (8tn rupees, or approximately £79bn). Government allocation of ₹ 300 crore (3bn rupees, or £29.6m) under the National Green Hydrogen Mission is noticeably small, given the total outlay of ₹19,700 crore (197bn rupees, or £1.9bn) committed earlier. However, a ₹ 30,000 crore (300bn rupees, or just under £3bn) energy transition funding to oil marketing companies will aid capital spends and enable the shift in hydrogen usage from grey to green in mature markets such as refineries and fertilisers.” 

This year’s Budget continued its journey of Amrit Kaal, with focus on green growth, commitment to laid leitmotifs like Make in India, Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self Reliant India) and Digital India, and fiscal prudence. “The Budget proposed alignments on duties applicable to imports to support the Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat initiatives like customs duty relaxations on camera lens, parts of camera modules, parts for manufacture of open cell of TV panel and some others,” said Santosh Dalvi, partner and deputy head of Indirect Tax, KPMG in India. “It has also prioritised green growth by extending customs duty exemptions on capital goods used in manufacturing of lithium-ion cells for batteries used in electric vehicles and denatured ethyl alcohol.” 

The Budget has incorporated measures to strengthen the digital economy. Three centres of excellence for artificial intelligence (AI) will be set-up in top educational institutions to realise the goal of Make AI in India and Make AI Work for India. Leading industry players will partner in conducting interdisciplinary research and developing 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. “The government’s initiative to set up 100 labs for 5G solutions across engineering colleges and the announcement around the national data governance framework will further empower the students, Indian start-ups and researchers that will collectively help us achieve our collective vision for the five trillion economy,” explained Vishal Agrawal, MD, Avaya.   

To unleash innovation and research by start-ups and academia, a National Data Governance Policy will be brought out. This will enable access to anonymised data with a focus on literacy and the inculcation of reading. The establishment of a National Digital Library will facilitate the availability of quality books across geographies, languages, genres and levels, and device agnostic accessibility for children and adolescents. States will be encouraged to set up physical libraries at the panchayat (local governance bodies at the village level) and ward levels for accessing the resources of the National Digital Library.

The digital public infrastructure has already given a fillip to the fintech industry. The fintech industry, which thrives on digital footprint of borrowers, could further benefit from the budget pronouncements. “Measures such as risk-based KYC [Know Your Customer], National Financial Information Registry and Digital Public Infrastructure for Agriculture will help in better availability of customer data. The last two schemes, similar to UPI [Unified Payments Interface], being based on a common platform, will help in faster uptake. Efficiency of operations will receive a fillip through the Entity DigiLocker, where MSMEs [Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises], corporates and other institutions will be able to store and share various documents,” observed Aniket Dani, director at CRISIL Research, Market Intelligence and Analytics.

What seems encouraging is the thrust given to medical technologies. Dedicated multidisciplinary courses for medical devices will be supported in existing institutions to ensure availability of skilled manpower for futuristic medical technologies, high-end manufacturing and research. Along with the medical field, job-oriented initiatives are also worth mentioning. “The announcement on Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana 4.0 to upskill youths focusing on courses for Industry 4.0, Covid, AI, robotics, mechatronics, IoT and drones is timely and forward looking,” said Purushothaman KG, partner and head of Digital Solutions and Telecommunications Industry Leader KPMG in India. “As per the KPMG Enterprise Digital Transformation Survey 2022, more than 85 per cent of enterprises across multiple sectors are expecting up to 20 per cent return on investment on various 5G/industry 4.0 use-cases ranging from non-time-critical communication, connected goods, seamless ecosystem communication, remote operations and time-critical communications. The skills will help professionals and engineers to build enterprise-grade 5G and Industry 4.0 use-cases and next-generation thinking on automation and AI.” 

Coming to agriculture, it is intended to establish an Agriculture Accelerator Fund to encourage agri start-ups by young entrepreneurs in rural areas. The Fund will aim at bringing innovative and affordable solutions for challenges faced by farmers. It will also bring in modern technologies to transform agricultural practices and increase productivity and profitability. “With next year being an election year, the government has continued to be responsible as well as productive despite it being their last full budget. It has been very inclusive including for agriculture in the form of a host of new initiatives. We do have to see how these will be implemented but their intent shows that they are keen to help the farmers,” reasoned Ketan Doshi, senior adviser at Transforming Agriculture for Small Farmers, The/Nudge Institute. “With these announcements, they will be benefitting the largest populace and the most people who are below poverty.”

Doshi added: “The initiatives push for better agricultural infrastructure, skill development, improving capabilities through financial inclusion and the co-operative societies, and also fostering technological development. This will yield great dividends over the next few years and support the sector.”

The Budget has a sparkling surprise, in the form of diamonds. It’s a known fact that Lab Grown Diamonds (LGD) is a technology-and innovation-driven emerging sector with high employment potential. These environment-friendly diamonds are believed to have optically and chemically the same properties as natural diamonds. To encourage the indigenous production of LGD seeds and machines, and to reduce import dependency, a research and development grant will be provided to one of the Indian Institutes of Technology for five years.

I feel like humming, ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’.

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