Tech It or Leave It Dig­i­tal Pol­icy

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Ku­nal Bahl

Build­ing on some of the progress in the past few years, the 2017 Bud­get put forth a mea­sured ap­proach to­wards de­vel­op­ing In­dia as a new-age econ­omy. The com­mon en­abler across all the thrust ar­eas of gov­ern­ment — ed­u­ca­tion, health, fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion — was tech­nol­ogy. Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments through the last decade have man­aged to cre­ate the right ecosys­tem that can be har­nessed to de­liver es­sen­tial ser­vices to cit­i­zens. Not sur­pris­ingly then, fi­nance min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley al­luded to the po­ten­tial of the JAM — Jan Dhan, Aad­haar, Mo­bile — trin­ity re­peat­edly dur­ing his speech. This for­ward mo­men­tum to­wards a digi­tised In­dia will re­ceive a fur­ther im­pe­tus with the launch of ini­tia­tives like Aad­haar Pay and the in­cen­tivi­sa­tion of the gov­ern­ment’s flag­ship BHIM (Bharat In­ter­face for Money) app. Fo­cused gov­ern­ment sup­port will not just widen dig­i­tal ac­cess to in­clude hith­erto un­touched groups, but will also in­crease over­all con­sumer con­fi­dence and aware­ness, en­abling a smoother tran­si­tion to a cash­less econ­omy.

The gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal to cre­ate a Pay­ments Reg­u­la­tory Board is also timely given the fast-evolv­ing fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy land­scape.

A si­mul­ta­ne­ous em­pha­sis on ex­pand­ing broad­band reach to ev­ery cor­ner of In­dia, through Bharat Net, will have a fur­ther mul­ti­plier ef­fect. Vi­sion of ‘digi-gaons’, if re­alised fully, could cor­rect cen­turies of ‘ex­clu­sion er­rors’ in health, ed­u­ca­tion and fi­nan­cial ser­vices.

The fi­nance min­is­ter also made a ref­er­ence to avail­abil­ity of cheap credit to mi­cro, small and medium en­ter­prises (MSMEs) on the ba­sis of dig­i­tal trans­ac­tion records. Sim­i­larly, go­ing for­ward, dig­i­tal pay­ment records can also serve as a gate­way to deeper fi­nan­cial ser­vices like credit, in­sur­ance, in­vest­ments for un­der­served seg­ments of so­ci­ety.

An­other pos­i­tive was the gov­ern­ment’s con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to­wards the ‘ease of do­ing busi­ness’ agenda. Cod­i­fi­ca­tion of labour laws and dis­pute res­o­lu­tion mech­a­nisms will im­prove In­dia’s at­trac­tive­ness as an in­vest­ment desti­na­tion. The pro­posed re­duc­tion in cor­po­rate taxes for medium and small en­ter­prises is a wel­come move. And the low­er­ing of pre­sump­tive tax rates will fur­ther in­cen­tivise smaller mer­chants to adopt dig­i­tal means of trans­act­ing.

One of the much-awaited changes in the In­come-tax Act was re­lax­ation of the need for con­tin­u­ous hold­ing of 51% of vot­ing rights for carry for­ward of losses. This has been an­nounced only for com­pa­nies reg­is­tered as star­tups un­der the Startup In­dia ini­tia­tive. This re­quire­ment is out of sync with to­day’s dy­namic in­vest­ment sce­nario and should ap­ply more broadly to ven­ture cap­i­tal-funded com­pa­nies. The FM quoted Ma­hatma Gandhi, “A right cause can never fail.” Pol­i­cy­mak­ers, en­trepreneurs, devel­op­ment pro­fes­sion­als, eco­nomics all agree that only a tech­nol­ogy-led in­no­va­tion econ­omy can realise the dream of an in­clu­sive and de­vel­oped In­dia.

Over­all, the gov­ern­ment has done well to take for­ward some of its key ini­tia­tives on this front while re­sist­ing the temp­ta­tion to an­nounce new headline schemes. In­dia is at an in­flec­tion point where it can put it­self on a higher growth or­bit. Build­ing an en­abling ecosys­tem for the dig­i­tal econ­omy is def­i­nitely a cause worth striv­ing for.

The writer is CEO, Snapdeal

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