India is looking forward to one of its crucial budgets since independence as the country’s still grappling with the economic slowdown precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite unexceptional circumstances and slackening in the economy, the adoption of AI across industries has been quite exceptional due to the increased push towards digital transformation. Nearly 70% of decision-makers across major industries said AI was critical to their businesses operations during 2020, in terms of efficiency, costs, and productivity. 

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here, and there is no denial that Artificial Intelligence and Data Science shall drive it. It would not be incorrect to say that COVID-19 amplified the adoption of Artificial Intelligence,” said Nishant Rathi, CEO & Founder of NeoSOFT Technologies. 

While last year’s budget had taken cognisance of the technology in shaping new India, India Inc. expects a year full of opportunities and considerable government efforts to position India as one of the preferred investment destinations globally this year. 

AI Education

The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) has brought new-age tech into the spotlight as it aims at infusing skills such as coding in students at an early age. The NEP focuses on developing future-ready skills such as critical thinking, logical thinking and tech skills, instead of rote learning. Institutions like the World Economic Forum have also emphasised the importance of these skills for future jobs.

Last year’s budget had allocated Rs 38,317Cr, i.e. 40% of the total budget towards higher education. “With one in 5 students unskilled for the modern workplace and about 60% unemployability in the higher education graduates in India, I implore the finance minister to increase the higher education budget by about at least 25%,” said Prof (col) Shishir Kumar, Director General, ImaginXP. 

Echoing similar thoughts, Amit Bansal, Founder & CEO, WizKlub said he would like to see specific budget allocation for tech and process implementation of these skills across schools. 

“One way to go about it could be by pushing courses in NITs and IITs. Such an initiative would create a demand on the AI industry and encourage startups and companies in India to fulfil this demand by pushing the sector forward,” said Gautam Seth, co-founder, Dreamcast. 

AI Policy

The pandemic has opened up many opportunities for startups and new-age tech companies to make inroads into the AI market. Neel Juriasingani, CEO & co-founder of Datacultr, is hopeful that with this union budget, the government will bring game-changing reforms and new policies and regulations that will offer relief and tax sops to MSMEs and the startup ecosystem.

Given the current business scenario, which is undergoing a digital revolution, the industry hopes for strong policies promoting IT innovation. ‘“Digital-first and data-centric should be the key focus areas for the Indian government as we push for digital innovation as an important building block for India’s future growth,” shared Deepak Mittal, CEO & Co-founder, TO THE NEW. 

“We, as industry leaders are expecting the government to address the key challenges and reform certain policies in this budget, as Artificial Intelligence is what we need the most to have a better tomorrow,” added Prateek Garg, CEO & Founder, Progressive infotech. 

Saurabh Singh, Director of Appinventiv, said the GOI should take steps to position India as the IT epicentre of the world by creating advanced policies in favour of the technology industry. He believes the government should also create favourable tax policies for 100% owned & incorporated companies in India, which play a significant role in employment generation and boosting the economy.

“There is a need to undertake definite policy measures and provide fiscal stimulus to ensure financial recovery and spur economic growth, specifically across sectors, like healthcare, edtech, infrastructure and manufacturing,” said Rajiv Bhalla, MD, Barco India.

Adding to it, Sangeet Kumar, CEO & Co-Founder, Addverb said he expects the government to ease the legal processes and regulations involved in setting up manufacturing facilities in India under its ‘Make in India’ initiative. He believes it will encourage indigenous technology production as well as consumption in India. 

“Further, providing the right kind of financial assistance along with regulatory clarity that focuses on ease of doing business aided by positive regulatory support will be critical,” said Pranav Sharma, Founding Partner, Woodstock Funds.

India struggles with unique policy challenges when it comes to data. With the upcoming budget, one of the demands is to put strong data-related policies in place. “While the Personal Data Protection Bill is a step forward, there is a need to incentivise consent with decentralised data economies, especially for the consumer – from whom the data is harvested,” shared Shiv Malik, Head of Growth, Streamr.  

Sharing similar thoughts, Nikhil Hooda, Co-founder & CTO, Upside AI said that clarity on data privacy laws and enabling regulations to debottleneck the landscape for local data storage, will be critical for the nascent AI/ML industry.

Rohit Manglik, CEO, EduGorilla believes that this year will be notable for the formulation of the National AI Policy to lay the roadmap for adoption of emerging technologies into diverse sectors. 

Support For MSMEs, Fintech, Logistics, Farming

Various small, medium and large enterprises are now working to take the AI industry to the next level. “We should look at letting “Make in India” and “Digital Transformation” truly intersect and provision an incentive for India Inc. at a larger level by giving businesses some sort of tax rebate or relief,” said Jinen Dedhia, co-founder & MD, DronaHQ. 

Rajesh Murthy, Founder Architect and Vice-President (Engineering), Intellicus Technologies said the year 2020 had shown us the immense potential of technology. “Our humble expectation from the government will be to focus more on the adoption and uptake of technology in some of the critical sectors.” 

Adding to it, Alok Mittal, CEO & Founder, Indifi Technologies said the economy is currently in a rebuild mode. Hence, sectoral incentives that allow MSMEs to recover, play a pivotal role. “Although different sectors have been hit differently, large sectors like transportation, logistics and hospitality come under the worst-hit category. As a result, there needs to be an initiative to provide them with support and recovery measures,” he added.

“The Budget 2020-21 needs to focus on expanding digital healthcare that has great potential to make healthcare more affordable and accessible by using technology to reach out the last mile,” added Gaurav Gupta, Co-founder, Navia Life Care.

The Fintech industry has similar expectations as the finance minister has been positively vocal about establishing the Indian Fintech footprint worldwide. “We are expecting fiscal policies that encourage banks and financial institutions, especially in rural areas, to partner and work closely with Fintech companies to expand their digital service suite,” said Kumar Abhishek, CEO & Founder, ToneTag. 

Another area that needs attention is the logistics sector. “Global and national supply chains are of paramount criticality in 2021 and beyond. This sector is the backbone of modern civilisation, and the Indian government should look at ways to simplify global trade. Urgent steps in this direction will help high growth companies keep a base in India, generate employment across the spectrum and help revive the national economy after the shock of the pandemic,” said Dhruvil Sanghvi, Chief Executive Officer, LogiNext. 

Addressing the need for the agritech sector, Prasanna Manogaran, Founder of Aqgromalin said the number of startups has dramatically increased in the Agri Tech space, and a focused approach from the government to device policies to support them would go a long way.     

Focus On Upskilling & Reskilling

As the companies struggle to adapt to the new normal, upskilling and reskilling become an integral part of this process.

“Organisations need to focus on the holistic development of employees and not just on technical skills enhancement. Since AI, ML and augmentation are increasingly getting integrated into the workplace, digital literacy has become an imperative for employees to function seamlessly in the post COVID era,” shared Lakshmi Mittra, VP and Head, Clover Academy. 

He also said the government should come with learning and development initiatives at various levels such as national, state, districts and towns to train the fresh talent in these new-age skill sets.

Investment In AI Research

Integrating AI lies at the centre of companies’ digital transformation journey. “Although budgetary concerns caused by the destabilising economic fallout of COVID-19 may impact current predictions, organisations will undoubtedly look to further their AI investments in order to remain competitive,” said Nikhil Barshikar, Founder of Imarticus Learning. 

Adding to it, Amarsh Chaturvedi, co-founder Director, Transerve said that innovation is an essential driver in India’s business and economic growth. With the upcoming budget, he hopes to see an increase in the expenditure in the R&D sector, along with liberalising the policies and framework to support the startup ecosystem.

Sharing his thoughts, Professor S Sadagopan, Director, IIITB said, “During the last two budget announcements, several visionary statements were made around allocating research funds toward artificial intelligence, under ‘AI for Good’. I hope that the 2022 budget will follow through on the same by supporting actionable projects, particularly those created in light of COVID-19.” 

Vinayak Shrivastav, co-founder and CEO of Toch, expects the government to make significant technology investments to strengthen emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and IoT.

“Increased prioritisation of growth opportunities and incentives for indigenous, homegrown brands focussing on these technologies will greatly boost the growth momentum,” added Raghu Mohan, CEO and co-founder, Lumos Labs. 

CP Gurnani, MD & CEO, Tech Mahindra, made a case for increased R&D spending to accelerate digital transformation and jumpstart education, to nurture our young talent pool and to accelerate our journey towards an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. 

Further, Karthikeyan Natarajan, President and Chief Operating Officer, Cyient said that companies are eagerly awaiting a central Research & Innovation Fund to help build up intellectual property out of the country. This will help domestic technology companies and attract global clients to set up their engineering centres in India.

Vishal Shah, head of data science at Digit Insurance believes the upcoming budget is an opportunity for the finance minister to make some strategic and generous announcements about funding AI and data science-related research and open up job opportunities, to benefit all sectors.

Cybersecurity has come to the forefront due to COVID-19, and businesses are relooking at their cybersecurity strategies to navigate the new normal.

“With the impact of COVID-19 likely to be felt for years to come, businesses are having to relook at their cybersecurity strategies to navigate the new normal. With our increased dependence on technology, securing the digital future has become very critical. In the upcoming budget announcement, the government should make provisions for increased cybersecurity investments,” said Sean Duca, Vice President and Regional Chief Security Officer, Asia Pacific & Japan Palo Alto Networks. 

Creating a suitable infrastructure for technology adoption is another crucial area. “As the country’s mood is ecstatic vis-a-vis technology adoption, the government needs to make the necessary investments in technology hubs this year. It will, in turn, help in strengthening the infrastructure for advanced technologies such as AI, machine learning, cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT),” said Sudeshna Datta, co-founder & Executive Vice President, Absolutdata. 

Realising the significance of AI in transforming societies and businesses alike, India’s government has shown utmost commitment towards building a robust AI infrastructure in India. “The Government is committed to creating an inclusive AI ecosystem as it is evident from creating the national AI stack and the invitation of public responses on its ‘ResponsibelAIforAll’ Report. What is now required is a budgetary allocation that will bridge the digital divide as a short term goal and brilliance divide as a long term one,” said Kazim Rizvi, Founder, The Dialogue, a tech policy think tank. 

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