Niti Aayog, the main policy think tank of the government, will direct the Centre's efforts to research on new technologies such as Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and 3D printing in various areas, finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Thursday.
“Global economy is transforming into a digital economy thanks to development of cutting-edge technologies in digital space – machine learning, artificial intelligence, internet of things, 3D printing and the like,” he said in his budget speech.
Jaitley said the NITI Aayog will initiate a national programme to direct the government’s efforts in the area of artificial intelligence and that the Department of Science and Technology will launch a Cyber Physical Systems Mission to establish centres of excellence to train people in robotics, AI, digital manufacturing, big data analytics, quantum communication and Internet of Things.
He also said that the government was doubling the allocation for the Digital India programme to Rs 3,073 crore for 2018-19.
The budget also proposed to set up five lakh WiFi hotspots to provide broadband access to five crore rural citizens. Besides, the budget has allocated Rs 10,000 crore to create and augment telecom infrastructure for the next year.
The finance minister also said that the Department of Telecom will help establish an indigenous testing facility for fifth-generation (5G) telecom technology at the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai.
The Centre’s move to encourage research and deploy newer technologies and plans to expand Internet to rural regions has received a positive response from the industry.
"The announcement by the government to create Centers of Excellence and upskill people on new technologies like AI, 3D printing, Robotics and IoT shows that the government is keen on using a combination of cyber and physical systems to enhance the way of life for the citizens of the country,” said Vishal Jain, partner at Deloitte India. Jain added that the push towards increased penetration of fiber and WiFi will mean that people will have easier access to Internet.
Renu Satti, managing director and CEO at Paytm Payments Bank, said that the increased outlay for infrastructure including WiFi spots will extend benefits of the Internet and technology-enabled services to masses. She added that Paytm will look to leverage these initiatives to provide digital payments, banking and other financial services to rural India.
Vishal Agrawal, managing director for India and South Asia at technology firm Avaya, said the announcement about the Centres of Excellence is a clear indication to fuel an innovation mindset in the country. “The government’s focus on further building Digital India showcases the emphasis on building a digital economy,” he said.
However, some industry executives felt that the budget announcements didn’t go far enough.
“The budget does not generate excitement to the extent that was anticipated,” said DD Mishra, research director at Gartner.
He also said that, though the extension of rural WiFi hotspots and investments in telecom can enable the rural economy and drive financial inclusion, the country needs a better connect between strategy and execution.
“Looking at the overall picture, I feel that the approach is more fragmented at the moment and outcome and objectives of Digital India need to be better connected with the investments which are being made,” Mishra said.