Budget 2022: Decoding The Digital Theme

| Updated: 09 February, 2022 6:43 pm IST

The New World Order wants to see a strong India, an India which is Aatmanirbhar along with being modern; and thus it is expected of India to take a leadership role and move with rapid pace and bring changes.

Union Budget 2022 also called Aatmanirbhar Bharat Ka Budget presented on February 1, 2022 by Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitaraman laid emphasis on digital technologies cutting across sectors -–from education, health, agriculture, banking, infrastructure, post offices to the gaming industry. Digital theme was a core part of the budget that cropped up umpteen times in the FM’s speech as she spoke of an IT enabled, technology driven, digitised economy, from digital university, digital currency, digital banking, virtual assets, e-passport, land record digitisation, hi-tech services to farmers, Kisan drones, gaming hub, digital health ecosystem and much more.

2021-2030 is said to be India’s decade and by 2047, India is assumed to be in the frontline role and the budget set a clear roadmap for a digitalised futuristic India for young Indians that is aimed to push India forward for a global role. It laid down specifics to make Indians tech enabled, tech forward and tech confident. FM mentioned that “India is now aiming to evolve into a $5 trillion economy and technology-driven start-ups are going to play a crucial role in achieving this goal.” Let us look at some of the announced digital initiatives.

Digitalised Agriculture

Digital agriculture is going to be India’s future empowering farmers with digital technology. Budget 2022 highlights digitising the agriculture sector from Kisan drones to public private partnerships to help deliver high-tech services to farmers. Efforts are being stepped up to use latest technology like Artificial Intelligence in areas like crop assessment, land record digitisation, deployment of drones for spraying of insecticides and nutrients, besides providing various other services, while going back to chemical free organic farming.

Along with the focus on increasing farmers’ digital presence, there is provision to boost agritech start-ups, including a fund with blended capital, raised under the co-investment model, which will be facilitated through NABARD.

Drone technology already had its success in Meghalaya, West Jaintia Hills when the Lakadong (famous for world’s finest turmeric variety with the highest curcumin content) turmeric farmers witnessed the first of the kind use of drone/UAV technology for payload delivery that served as a model of solving the 1st mile connectivity issues under the PM’s AGNi Mission and ODOP (One District, One Product) overcoming severe challenges.

Digitalised Education

The long spell of school closures due to the pandemic and a stark digital divide have had a significant impact on the education sector affecting lakhs of schools and colleges across the country. Hence, digital learning will be the new mode, as said by our FM, especially for those from weaker sections, who have lost nearly two years of formal education due to the COVID pandemic disruptions. It will include expansion of the PM e-VIDYA initiative, proposal to launch a digital university and development of e-content in all Indian languages. PM eVIDYA will see expansion from 12 to 200 TV channels under the “One Class-One Channel” initiative to enable states in providing supplementary education in regional languages for classes 1 to 12. Delivery via internet, mobile phones, TV and radio through digital teachers, and a mechanism to equip teachers with digital tools will be initiated.

Over 750 virtual labs in science and mathematics and 75 skilling e-labs for a simulated learning environment will be set up in 2022-23, all leading towards building a resilient mechanism for education delivery.

Digital University as announced will be established to provide students across the country access to universal education with personalised experience. It is proposed to be built on a networked hub-spoke model, with the hub building cutting edge ICT expertise. The content therein will be available in all Indian languages and public universities and institutions in the country will collaborate as a network of hub-spokes.

A virtual/digital storehouse named Academic Bank of Credits (ABC) will be established that will act as a digital depository for storage and delivery of credits earned by individual students throughout their learning journey. It will enable students to open their accounts and give multiple options for entering and leaving colleges or universities.

Digital Skill Readiness

Survey report states that today a large population of young Indians are actively learning digital skills for future work roles and are equipped with resources to learn digital skills. Over the next 5-year index among 19 countries, India has the highest digital readiness score at 63 out of 100, average global score being 33. India leads on digital skill readiness required by businesses today.

Our Finance Minister announced the creation of a digital ecosystem for Skilling and Livelihood through the DESH-Stack e-portal to be launched soon. The portal will empower citizens to skill, reskill or upskill through online training and provide API-based trusted skill credentials, payment and discovery layers to find relevant jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. The budgetary announcement of the Skill Hub Initiative of the MoE and MSDE will be launched in 5000 skill centres.

Besides, startups will be promoted to facilitate ‘Drone Shakti’ through varied applications and for Drone-As-A-Service (DrAAS). In select ITIs, in all states, the required courses for skilling will be started.

Digitalised Health Sector

The current ongoing pandemic has affected not just physical health but also mental health. It has been accentuating mental health problems in people across ages and hence the government has announced relevant plans to boost the mental health segment. 2022’s budget has prioritised the digitalisation of healthcare services (Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission). The announced rollout of the Open Platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem will give a major lift to the health sector. It is a visionary move and will go a long way in digitising data about healthcare providers and health facilities to provide unique health identity while extending universal access to health facilities on a digital platform. The National Tele Mental Health Programme that will provide quality counselling will include a network of 23 Tele Mental Health Centres of excellence.

Digital Infrastructure

Under the PM Gati Shakti digital platform, 16 Ministries of the 7 engines of economic information- including Railways, Roadways, Airports, Ports, Waterways, Mass Transport and Logistics Infrastructure  are brought together for integrated planning and coordinated implementation of infrastructure connectivity projects. This is based on a National Master Plan for Multimodal Connectivity.

Digital infrastructure in rural areas is also to receive a big push, especially through the announcement of Vibrant Village Programme. 1 lakh digital villages are scheduled to be set up with citizen centric services providing them better access and all provisions. Liberalising public Wi-Fi hotspot services for easy, economical and reliable access.

The Budget also granted infrastructure status to data centres. This is a shot in the arm, and brings data centre development at par with other major sectors. Data centres are of strategic importance to digital infrastructure and in securing data by localisation. This will play a key role in enabling a digital economy, as it will bolster data localisation in wake of protection of data sovereignty in the age of globalisation. This progressive step will enable India to become a global data centre hub, one which will get a boost due to favourable geographical location and availability of skilled resources. It will provide access to foreign investment and private capital, help borrow funds at lower cost, and thus enable rapid deployment of data centres across the country.

Digitalised Banking & Payment System

FM announced the setting up of digital banking units, 75 digital banking units in 75 districts of the country by Scheduled Commercial Banks (SCBs). This is slated to help promote digital payments aggressively in the country and drive financial inclusion further. The fintech sector has seen massive disruption over the last two years with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which boosted demand for digital payments and other financial services and FM’s digitisation push comes at an appropriate time.

FM also proposed that all the 1.5 lakh post offices, i.e. 100 per cent of post offices will be brought on the core banking system to enable financial inclusion and access to accounts through net banking, mobile banking, ATMs, and also provide online transfer of funds between post office accounts and bank accounts. This will also lead to accelerating the shifting micro economy in the mainstream banking system, apart from opening up an array of opportunities for fintech companies.

Digital Passport

The announcement of providing E –Passport is another major step. E-Passport will make travel easier, smoother and enhance security and facilitate smoother international travel. It will be protected through multi-layered cyber security features, the data will be put into a chip through a personalization process and there will be digital keys and digital signatures that will ensure security. It will use radio frequency identification (RFID) and bio-metrics to ascertain the identity of the individuals.

The chip embedded E-Passports will help in securing the personal data of the passport holder like name, bio-metric details. In case there is tampering with the chip, the system will detect it and in such a case the passport will not be authenticated. Issuance of chip embedded e-passports will also make a positive impact on the way of living.

Digital Currency

The icing on the cake was the proposed introduction of digital rupee.FM announced India’s own digital currency in the next fiscal year. She proposed to introduce Digital Rupee, using block chain and other technologies, to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) starting 2022-23. With this India will join countries that have their own central bank digital currency (CBDC) that refers to the virtual form of a fiat currency.

Digital currency will not only give a big boost to a digital economy, but will also make the currency management system more efficient and cheaper. It will have  multiple benefits from reducing cost of printing and transporting physical currency, scope of counterfeiting, reduce friction in movement of money, help monitor movement and traceability, ensuring money reaches the intended beneficiary,  reduce tax evasions, besides reducing the cost of money itself and in the long-term contributing to fuelling economic growth.

Apart from the above, certain crucial steps likes integration of central and state level systems through IT bridges, end to-end online e-billing system, ‘One Nation, One Registration’ to facilitate ease of living & doing business, recognizing virtual assets as a taxable asset class, having a council for AVGC (Gaming, Animation Sector), auctioning 5G spectrum, building optical fibre network are efforts that will build up digital capacity of the country, improve efficiency and further boost start-ups and also employment.

As India is rapidly developing to become a global powerhouse with the potential to lead this global transition to an all new digital economy, a bright future for the youths is reflected through the various budget announcements.

Aatmanirbhar Bharat Ka Budget’s focus is clearly based on digitizing the Indian economy to attain the “AmritKaal” vision of India@100.  It is a huge confidence booster as it fulfills the quest for modernity and technology so desired by the new generation, while being rooted to uplifting and strengthening our core economic sectors.

(Mita Bora is a Researcher and Writer. She is Convener, Nation First Writers Forum) 

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