When economists research on how certain nations emerged as successful economies, some questions really intrigue them. Like, why did the industrial revolution happen in Britain of all countries? How Taiwan became a hub for semiconductors, starting from scratch? How come Israel became a hot bed for tech startups? Though there might be numerous factors responsible for their success, one common and most important parameter is that governments of these countries had a vision to harness the power of technology for their nations progress and to transform lives of their people. They recognized that technology has the strength to bridge the distance between hopes and opportunities and that it offers solutions that were hard to imagine in the past.
Technologies change very rapidly. New technologies emerge from time to time disrupting the existing eco system and fostering innovation. Thus it becomes inevitable to invest in emerging technologies. Be it a business entity or a nation, if it wants to be ahead of the time or stay competitive in the global market offering solutions and empowering the society, it has to invest in emerging technologies. But unfortunately, for years together India has been a taker than being a front runner in technology. Most of our previous budgets talked about physical infra to support industry but never mentioned about investing in new technologies.
Budget reflects both the government’s spending aptitude and attitude. It unfolds how a nation plans to get prepared for the long term and the short term. Unfortunately, Indian budgets have mostly been focusing on short term needs and aspirations, on ease of getting votes rather than on the long term destiny of the Nation. And that forced India to lag behind some of the tiniest nations of the world in terms of research, innovation and quality of life for decades together. But fortunately, the thrust given to emerging technologies in the recent union budget and the expression of eagerness to adopt them by the union government is destined to place India well on its way to emerge as a leading digital nation and innovation hub on the world map.
For the first time, Indian Budget featured deep-tech terms like machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, Internet of things and quantum communication. In one of the biggest moves ever made to support the emerging cutting edge technologies, the Union Government has doubled its allocation to the ‘Digital India’ mission to around Rs 3,073 Crores. Technology formed one of the key focuses in the Union Budget 2018-19. Budget 2018-19 gives recognition to the emerging sectors like edutech, agritech and healthtech in India and is a big boost for Digital India. For this reason, Budget 2018 can be termed as a Technology oriented budget. The mention of 5th generation technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things, 3D printing and block chain is very well in line with the new India vision that Prime Minister Modi unfolded. This Budget struck a chord with the sentiments of gennext aspirational Indian youth which is why 2018 budget can also be labeled as a New India Budget.
Emphasis on the usage of the blockchain technology illustrates government’s thrust on transparency in governance and speed in service delivery. After the internet, the blockchain is being lauded as one of the most disruptive technologies with massive potential. Blockchain technology can play an enormous role in collaborative governance and effective distribution systems for our society. Blockchain technology is being explored and adopted actively in countries such as Denmark, Sweden, USA, Estonia, UAE etc., across public affair domains like judicial decisions storage, project financing and monitoring, asset management, contract management, regulatory compliance, production, digital identity management, business licenses, passports, criminal records, tax records, marital records, tourism engagement, etc. India’s ambitious initiatives to maximize the benefits of blockchain will make the public sector more transparent, and the economy stronger. Its adoption will enhance ease of doing business, ease of service delivery and accelerate the nation’s economic growth. This new age technology also prove to be an emerging weapon in the financial services industry.
Governments focus on Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning and Quantum Communications is likely to the change the dynamics of digitization. IoT finds its applications in digitizing the healthcare, transport, agriculture, services, logistics sectors. Given that the Indian IoT market is expected to touch Rs 1 lakh crore within the next two years, Governments spending is expected to yield exponential ROI.
Adopting to Machine Learning has wide ranging and powerful applications in commerce, Fintech, banking, surveillance, customer service and support, big data analytics, intelligent shopping assistance and conversational bots. But one aspect that remains skeptical is why NITI Aayog, an organization which is already overburdened with several high profile tasks,is given the task to formulate plans to inculcate Artificial intelligence across various institutions of the country.
Finance Minister’s mention of the fifth generation, 5G technology positively surprised even most of the techies. Fifth generation mobile wireless technology is still a few years away. Inspite of that, governments plan in the budget to establish an indigenous test bed for 5G at IIT Chennai speaks a volume about how Government is thinking ahead of its time.
The promise of creation of around 5 lakh WiFi spots all across the country by spending Rs 10,000 crore, to provide quality internet access to the remotest areas of the country is aimed at ease of living of the people living in villages. It will also open up gates for huge opportunities in business, trade and employment.
In research, India lags behind countries like China, US, Russia and even Japan. The recent economic surveys reveal that India had filed 45,658 patents in 2015 as opposed to 1,101,864 patents filed by China. Meanwhile, US had filed 589,410 patents followed by Japan with 318,721 patents.The government’s economic survey for 2017–18 said India’s spending on R&D has been stagnant at 0.6-0.7% of GDP in the last two decades. This is far less compared to any other emerging economies. For innovation to foster in technology, India needs massive investments in research. This has been unanimously agreed by our policy makers, intelligentsia and educationists for years, but successive governments have failed to take any giant leap towards this. India is fortunate that this government not only recognizes this fact but also does something significant to bolster research.
The plan to set up investments in research and related infrastructure in premier educational institutions, including health institutions with Rs 1 lakh crores by an initiative named, Revitalizing Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022 is a major breakthrough. This is expected to go a long way in promoting research based education in institutions.
The Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship that is announced was a long pending dream of many research aspirants.The Governments initiative to identify 1,000 best B.Tech students each year from premier institutions and provide them facilities to do Ph.D in IITs and IISc, with a handsome fellowship is going to attract the best talents across the country. The scheme will go a long way in tapping the talent pool for carrying out research indigenously in cutting-edge science and technology domains. It will address our national priorities on the one hand and the shortage of quality faculty in premier educational institutions on the other. The initiative will convert brain drain to brain gain.
Technology has been the key focus of the Modi government since the time it came to power. Government wants technology to play a huge role in uplifting the rural poor, in ease of living and in strengthening the economy. Aadhar is playing a key role in benefits reaching the target beneficiariesmore efficiently without any leakages and it saved nearly Rs 75,000 crores public money from a gross misuse. Demonetization has encouraged digital infrastructure and recapitalized the banks. Post demonetization, the growth rate of digital payments has accelerated to 40-70 percent range from 20-50 percent. And now the strong intentions of the current regime to harness the latest technologies is goingto give further impetus to the entire ecosystem. Moreover, the emphasis of this government not just on the introduction of new technologies but also on ensuring that the technology is made accessible and affordable to all is the real game changer. Because unless technology is made available and affordable, it yields no benefit for common man. The way Government ensured that LED bulbs were retailed for about Rs 40 per bulb instead of Rs 350 during UPA regime has helped in scaling up the usage of LED bulbs across the country saving crores of rupees worth of power bills by the common people. It has set a precedent. If the Government can build on such success stories and convert its budget promises and thrust on emerging technologies into a reality, that will pave the path for the much aspired New India Vision.
Anugula Rakesh Reddy
(The Author is BJP Official State Spokesperson of Telangana,
an Economist and Director, Center for Leadership and Governance)