In what can only be hailed as a validation of the maturing technological landscape in the country, India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has dropped the phrase ‘data mining’ in his Budget 2017 speech in the Parliament. While talking about bringing reforms in tax administration of the country, Jaitley detailed how the Revenue Department is trying to leverage Big Data analytics and bring in maximum use of Information Technology to remove human contact with assesses, as well as to plug tax avoidance. “We are also using a lot of data mining capability, both in-house and outsourced,” he explained.
This is probably the first time the Indian government has been so vocal about the transformational potential of technology in its Budget. Here are some highlights and reactions from the geospatial community in India:
Geo-tagging of rural assets
The budget provision of Rs 38,500 crores under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) in 2016-17 has been increased to the highest-ever allocation of Rs 48,000 crores in 2017-18. The initiative to geo-tag all MGNREGA assets and putting them in public domain for greater transparency holds a great potential for the geospatial industry. The government is also mulling using space technology in a big way to plan MGNREGA works.
For Rohan Verma, Director, MapmyIndia, this is a game-changing move. Verma says, “We think it is a really good budget, and favorable for the economy, citizens, general industry, and specifically geospatial industry too. The finance minister specifically mentioned geo-tagging of assets built through MGNREGA scheme for transparency as a work, showing they appreciated geospatial technology. And as MapmyIndia anyway is serving lots of government initiatives across center, state and municipal administrations, we see a bright future for the geospatial industry and MapmyIndia in the coming years.”
Infrastructure, agriculture and entrepreneurship
The total allocation for infrastructure development in 2017-18 stands at Rs 3,96,135 crores. To ensure passenger safety in Railways, the government plans to eliminate unmanned level crossings on Broad Gauge lines by 2020. “Expert international assistance will be harnessed to improve safety preparedness and maintenance practices,” Jaitley promised.
Budget 2017 also states that a specific program for development of multi-modal logistics parks, together with multi-modal transport facilities, will be drawn up and implemented. Further, select airports in Tier 2 cities will be taken up for operation and maintenance in the PPP mode. Airport Authority of India Act will be amended to enable effective monetization of land assets. Moreover, it has been proposed to feed about 7,000 stations with solar power in the medium term. Surprisingly, Smart Cities did not find a mention in Jaitley’s speech.
But, agriculture came up as a major sector where geospatial technology is sure to play a key role. Jaitley stressed how the issuance of Soil Health Cards has gathered momentum in the country. While acknowledging that the real benefit to farmers would be available only when the soil samples are tested quickly and nutrient level of the soil is known, the Union Minister declared that in addition to the government setting up new mini-labs in Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), 1,000 mini-labs will be set up by qualified local entrepreneurs.
Atanu Sinha, Country Director, Hexagon Geospatial, feels that the Budget 2017 will generate a lot of entrepreneurship in the geospatial community itself. “The government’s focus on infrastructure, defence modernization, agriculture and rural development will benefit the geospatial industry directly because we deliver cutting-edge applications and solutions in these areas. I believe that the investment focus on infrastructure alone would translate into a double-digit growth outlook for our industry,” insists Sinha.
“Geospatial industry is on the brink of espousing the IT sector, thereby becoming a part of all e-governance projects. It’s safe to say that the Budget 2017 is quite positive and favorable for the geospatial industry, and will make entrepreneurship more prevalent in our community,” Sinha smiles.
Digital economy was one of the main themes of Jaitley’s budget. The minister said, “Digitization has a transformative impact in terms of greater formalization of the economy and mainstreaming of financial savings into the banking system. This, in turn, is expected to energize private investment in the country through lower cost of credit.”
The government will launch two new schemes to promote the usage of BHIM app for digital payments. A DigiGaon initiative will be launched to provide tele-medicine, education and skills through digital technology. “India is now on the cusp of a massive digital revolution,” Jaitley added in his speech. “Increased digital transactions will enable small and micro enterprises to access formal credit.”
Rajiv Srivastava, MD, HP India, agrees that the strong emphasis laid on technology in almost all the development areas in the budget reaffirms that technology has been at the forefront of India’s recent economic growth and digital transformation.
“It has been recognized as an important enabler across initiatives ranging from agriculture to skill development to manufacturing and infrastructural development. The government’s focus on making India a digital payment economy will definitely help companies like HP to contribute in technology adoption in rural and semi-urban areas, thereby bringing the Digital India’ vision closer to reality,” Srivastava quips.
No change in customs duty, MAT
However, the industry agrees that more could have been done by the government to promote geospatial. Verma stresses that the government could provide further fillip and incentives to the geospatial industry and infrastructure, which play a key role in nation building, security, economic growth and social justice. “It will be good if in future they can consider easing the customs duty burden on GPS equipment which is much more than GPS-enabled mobile phones,” he adds.
Shyam Ramamurthy, Chief Technology Officer, Magnasoft, opines that, overall, Budget 2017 is a mixed bag for startups. “One positive change is extending the period of tax concessions from 5 to 7 years for startups. Reduction in tax to SMEs is another welcome step. But, not removing Minimum Alternative Tax (MAT) is disappointing,” Ramamurthy sums up.
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