Guest Column: Neel Ratan, Partner and Leader, Government and Public Sector, PWC India
The Union Budget of 2018 has given a massive thrust to structural reforms with the vision of fast-tracking our country’s progress. It is an attempt to take forward the growth momentum after the implementation of crucial reforms such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation. There’s been a hue and cry among the elite about how the budget is socialist and targets the vote bank with an eye on the 2019 election.
Our economy can only prosper if its core foundations – the rural economy, agriculture and infrastructure – are strengthened. The Budget of 2018 does exactly that with several propositions such as the National Health Protection Scheme, the world’s largest government-funded healthcare programme covering 10 crore poor and vulnerable families. It is a huge leap in transforming the slackening healthcare ecosystem of our country. However, the infrastructure, such as healthcare facilities and medical personnel, needs to be scaled up to cater to the ever-increasing medical needs of our population. The identification of correct beneficiaries of the scheme will be crucial and Aadhaar will play a critical role in this.
The government seems committed to its resolve of improving the ease of living and embracing the benefits of digital. Moreover, the government realises the importance of technology to make up for the absence of relevant infrastructure and has made announcements to encourage the use of digital in critical areas such as education, agriculture and health. Sufficient allocation of funds for improving telecom infrastructure and setting up Wi-Fi hotspots will go a long way in making ours a data-driven digital economy. With the doubling of funds for the Digital India programme, the government has reiterated its commitment to transforming our economy into a digital economy. Continued focus on Digital India will expand the programme’s canvas and drive innovation as well as give a thrust to last mile delivery.
Also, it is heartening the see the interest and commitment of the government towards emerging technologies, which has translated into concrete action for the way forward. The announcement of NITI Aayog’s artificial intelligence programme and centres of excellence for research in robotics, artificial intelligence, big data and many other technologies will open up avenues to explore the adoption of advanced technologies for improving the delivery of public services.
Our country is certainly embracing emerging technologies well with the resolution to explore the use of blockchain for payments. These initiatives will propel India into the league of innovation and set up a paradigm, as done earlier for User Identification (UID) and Direct Benefits Transfer. The thrust to the use of digital in education will, to an extent, make up for the lack of adequate facilities and infrastructure for education, especially in remote areas where it is difficult to construct large schools.
The budget aims for inclusive development with an eye on business, the rural economy and agriculture, social protection, health, education, employment, MSMEs, and infrastructure. The key to development lies in successful last mile execution with relevant regulatory support.