MUMBAI: The Union Budget finally arrived today with all eyes fixated on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. He presented his fifth Union Budget, which was also the last one for the Modi government before India sets out to choose its new prime minister next year. Riding on optimism, different research firms, news broadcasters and media companies kept speculating for about a month on what exactly should this year’s budget hold for India.
While the Union Budget 2018 was essentially a populist budget as Lok Sabha elections are due next year, it turned out to be a rather disappointing one for the advertising and media industry but it was a big thumbs up for Digital India and digitisation. The budget focused on the middle class and rural population, guided by the mission to strengthen India’s agriculture, rural development, health, education, employment, MSME and infrastructure sectors.
With a view to promote digitisation, the government is set to make the necessary investment in robotics, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), digital manufacturing and big data analysis with the NITI Aayog to establish a national programme to direct efforts in artificial intelligence. The government has committed itself to the development of technology along with concentrating on AI and its applications, a revolutionary move for the digital industry. The ministry has decided to double its Digital India budget to around Rs 3000 crore.
The ministry has also proposed to set up 5 lakh Wi-Fi hotspots to give access to 5 crore rural citizens, which means digital and internet penetration into smaller pockets of the country will result in increased data consumption across India. The move will help brands, agencies and OTT players to create target content for such markets.
In a move to regulate the cryptocurrency market in India, Jaitley said that the government would take essential measures to eliminate the use of crypto assets in financing illegitimate activities. He, however, maintained that the Indian government will explore the use of block chain technology proactively to usher in the digital ecosystem.
Jaitley also announced the allocation of Rs 10,000 crore for creation and augmentation of telecom infrastructure. He also noted that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) are a major element for growth and mass formalisation of the MSME sector is slated to happen after demonetisation and GST, which took place in 2016-17.
In what turned out to be the world's largest government-funded healthcare programme, Indian ministry will launch health scheme to cover 10 crore poor families. The flagship national healthcare protection scheme of the government will provide upto Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation of members.
The television and handset companies did receive a blow as mobile phones are now set to become costlier as the custom duty on them has been increased to 20 per cent. The move comes with an aim to promote the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Customs duty on crude edible vegetable oils such as groundnut oil, safflower seed oil has been hiked from 12.5 per cent to 30 per cent while on refined edible vegetable oil it has been hiked from 20 per cent to 35 per cent. Customs duty on imitation jewellery’s been increased from 5 per cent to 15 per cent in 2016 to 20 per cent now with duty on sunglasses, cigarette lighter, toys, bus and truck tyres, select furniture also seeing a similar hike. The import duty on smart watches, wearable devices, footwear has now been doubled to 20 per cent whereas the duty on LCD/LED/OLED panels has been hiked to 15 per cent. The import of solar-tempered glass for manufacture of solar cells will be exempted from customs duty.
While the health and education cess has been increased to 4 per cent, the aam aadmi who was positive about having to pay less tax will be disappointed as the government did not propose any change in the tax slabs for the salaried class this year.