Union Budget 2019: A slowing economy and huge expectations that the unprecedented mandate given to the Modi 2.0 government could only have meant one thing for Budget 2019 -reward the common man in rural and small-town India with enough boosters for agriculture, food and primary healthcare. And sure enough, the focus on these areas and also tax rationalisation have been the key features of the first Budget by Nirmala Sitharaman. If any optimist in the IT cities was hoping to see incentives for the sector and a new impetus to Startup India, Digital India and Make-in-India, the message is clear. Your time will come but let's get the GDP back on track first and put a smile on the face of Bharat!
In any case, not all economic activities wait for Budget incentives and there is enough to suggest that there will be full support for industries that can give the much-needed boost to livelihoods in all our cities. Manufacturing, particularly in erstwhile boom sectors such as automotive and auto component manufacturing has been seeing a marked deceleration in recent months and will need that much-needed boost with gradual moves to electric and autonomous that will bring in innovation as well as create new jobs.
The focus on SMEs in the Economic Survey as well as the Budget augurs well for job creation as well as an easing of labour and land policies in the future. Rightly, the larger focus has been on the rural economy and hence the services sector has been largely left to continue on its own growth path. There is reason to cheer for high-end IT solution enablers with Skills India including AI and IoT in its ambit. Entities such as the Centre for AI in Chennai and Pune and SP Robotic Works with its fast expanding network of Robotics and AI training for children can get a new impetus to their growth and communication plans.
Coming to Indian startups, the rhetoric five years ago was tremendous but the results of the first wave of Startup India have fallen short of expectations. It would be heartening if we can "do an Israel" and get a few 1000 new companies to start with adequate funding, scale to a crore-rupee of revenue in two years and aspire to be million-dollar profitable companies in 2022.
What will help in this Budget is the liberation of startups from excessive tax supervision and the benefits give to them through exemption from scrutiny of fair value, which should help in accelerating angel funding. With new opportunities opening up with 5G and Edge Computing, there is reason to believe that Indian entrepreneurs will get it right this time. The impediments are being removed and scaling of at least a 100 firms to unicorn status is not only possible but essential for the industry to progress.
The move towards a truly "Digital India" celebrated its fourth anniversary at the beginning of July and the promise of the digital economy contributing a trillion dollars out of the five trillion economy mission that we have set for 2024 is an ambitious but highly desirable goal for all of us. In the next five years, policy and budgetary focus has to be on taking digitalisation to every corner of the country, transforming education, healthcare, manufacturing, services and country-wide data management, all within an environment of robust cybersecurity.
As a country, our vision has to be awe inspiring and the goals we set for ourselves worthy of the brilliant minds and entrepreneurship hunger that is available in abundance in the country. The country should invest deeply in a research and academic environment that creates more institutions of the calibre of a Cambridge or Stanford or some of the older IITs.
In addition, Centres of Excellence focused on cutting-edge technologies, design thinking and cyber-physical interfaces including IoT should be funded and encouraged in all institutions of higher learning and the government should not shy away from investing public money in high-quality private institutions, either through direct project and programme funding or through grants given to researchers to commercialise their ideas for the benefit of India. It will need a larger concerted effort to build an ecosystem that will deliver a steady stream of entrepreneurs and job creators in all sectors for the future!
(The author is chairman, 5F World & Social Venture Partners India)