The Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley while presenting the General Budget for 2018-19 in Parliament focused on government’s commitment to substantially boost investment in agriculture, social sector, digital payments, infrastructure and employment generation. The union Budget 2018-19 presented focused on physical infrastructure in big way both in terms of program and investment.
Doubling of Digital India allocation: In the sector of digital infrastructure the General Budget 2018-19 announced a doubling of allocation on Digital India Program to Rs. 3,073 crore in 2018-19. Rs. 10,000 crore has been provided for creation and augmentation of telecom infrastructure. The government proposes to set up 5 lakh WiFi hotspots in 250,000 gram panchayats which will provide broadband access to 5 crore rural citizens and also focus on completing remaining 150,000 gram panchayats with broadband infrastructure. The Finance Minister informed that the Phase I of Bharatnet Project has already enabled broadband access to over 20 crore rural Indians.
For new technologies, the Department of Science and Technology will launch a Mission on Cyber Physical Systems to support establishment of centers of excellence for research in training and skilling in robotics, artificial intelligence, digital manufacturing, big data analysis and quantum communication. NITI Aayog will initiate a national program to direct efforts in the area of Artificial Intelligence. The government will take all measures to eliminate the use of crypto-assets in financing illegitimate activities and will also explore the use of blockchain technology for ushering in digital economy.
To harness the benefit of emerging new technologies, the Department of Telecom (DoT) will support establishment of an indigenous 5G Test Bed at IIT, Chennai.
Smart Cities and Amrut Program allocation: 99 cities have been selected with an outlay of Rs. 2.04 lakh crore under the Smart Cities Mission. Projects worth Rs. 2,350 crore have been completed and works of Rs. 20,852 crore are under progress. Under AMRUT program, state level plans of Rs. 77,640 crore for 500 cities have been approved. Water supply contracts for 494 projects worth Rs. 19,428 crore and sewerage work contract for 272 projects costing Rs. 12,429 crore has been awarded. 482 cities have started Credit rating and 144 cities have got investment grade rating.
Make in India for job creation: To further incentivise the domestic value addition and Make in India, the finance minister proposed to increase customs duty on mobile phones from 15% to 20%, on some of their parts and accessories to 15% and on certain parts of TVs to 15%. This measure will promote creation of more jobs in the country and give a big boost to Make in India. In fact, this will make the domestic mobile phones cheaper than imported ones and will generate more demand.
Movement from black board to digital board: The government proposes to gradually move away from black board to digital board. Focus is on district-wise strategy for improving the quality of education. Emphasising the need to step up investment in research and related infrastructure in leading educational institutions, the Finance Minister announced the proposal to launch a major initiative named Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE). RISE will see an investment of Rs.100,000 core over the next four years.
Referring to higher education, Jaitley announced the launch of Prime Minister’s Research Fellows (PMRF) Scheme. In this scheme, 1,000 best B.Tech students will be identified from premier institutions each year and facilities will be provided to them to undertake Ph.D in IITs and IISc with an attractive fellowship. Acknowledging the critical nature of the training of teachers during service, the finance minister also referred to the move to initiate an integrated B.Ed. programme for teachers.
Infrastructure takes prime seat: The government has enhanced allocation for the infrastructure sector in the Union Budget 2018-19, recognizing its role as the growth driver of the economy. The budgetary and extra budgetary expenditure for the sector has been increased from Rs. 4.94 lakh crore in 2017-18 to Rs. 5.97 lakh crore in 2018-19. An all time high allocation of Rs. 134,572 crore has been made for the transport sector. In the road sector, the recently approved Bharatmala Pariyojana aims to develop about 35,000 km of highways at a cost of Rs. 535,000 crore in Phase I.