The Union Budget of 2018 was based on high expectations with the rendra Modi government trumpeting its development discourse based on the Prime Minister’s doctrine of sabka saath, sabka vikaas. As Union Fince Minister tabled his Budget – the first after the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was implemented throughout the country in June last year – what was obvious in his speech was an effort to present a balanced fincial trajectory for the country. The infrastructure thrust has been conspicuous. A specialized railway university has been proposed at Vadodara. Given the ture of railway traffic in the country and the heavy dependence of the lower and middle class on the Indian Railways, this institution can go a long way in facilitating better, more efficient and smarter railway services. This apart, all trains and railway stations will have Wi-Fi and CCTVs. This is doubtless a progressive step in view of the heavy reliance of the country’s IT-savvy population on the internet and growing security concerns at railway stations. Over Rs 1.48 lakh crore has been allocated for the railways in the next fiscal along with an ambitious plan to redevelop 600 major railway stations. In fact, this should have been done long ago, but better late than never.
Other infrastructure thrusts include the Fince Minister’s confidence to complete all tiol highways exceeding 9,000 km under the Bharatmala Project. Ninety-nine smart cities have been identified with an outlay of Rs 2.04 lakh crore. Airport capacity will be hiked to handle 1 billion trips every year. This step is progressive because India is now a major tourist destition and the Centre has been devising modern strategies to attract more and more intertiol tourists in the following years. And that tourism has been taken up as an industry throughout the country cannot be gainsaid too. The other remarkable feature in this budget is the government’s emphasis on artificial intelligence – the NITI Aayog, which is the new avatar of the erstwhile Planning Commission, will establish a tiol Programme to direct the government’s efforts in the field of artificial intelligence towards tiol development. Artificial intelligence, with new and modern software systems coming up, is a key area in tiol development; even growing cyber crimes can come under its ambit. As a matter of fact, many world-class universities, including in Asia such the famed ones in Chi and Beijing, are embarking on commendable research projects in the domain of artificial intelligence. Therefore, the importance of artificial intelligence research cannot be overemphasized for a country like India that is one of the fastest-growing economies of the world and is rivalling neighbouring Chi which has done excellent technology research for tiol development. That the NITI Aayog will take up a programme for the whole tion in the domain of artificial intelligence points to the Modi government’s thrust on using a key area of computer science to address multiple challenges in different sectors. This must be reckoned as a positive beginning in a field that has produced marvels in developed countries. Japan is one of the best examples. Even robotics comes under its ambit, with Japan, for instance, working out wonders here. India can take help from countries that have successfully used artificial intelligence research for developmental activities. With relations with Japan being smooth and growing by the day, Japanese experts can give us some solid ideas on the use of artificial intelligence for tiol development.
The other key features of the Budget include the government’s announcement to provide all Indians with their homes by 2022 – that is, within the next four years! Critics would dub this as overambitious . But the fact of the matter remains that with a solid roadmap and right utilization of money and other available resources, and with graft being taken head-on (which is the Modi government’s pet theme in the tiol development discourse), the target to provide all Indians with their homes should not be as difficult as it is perceived. There is a proposal for a fund of Rs 500 crore for Operation Green on the lines of Operation Flood to boost agricultural produce. In the health sector, the Budget provides every family Rs 5 lakh annually for medical reimbursements under the tiol Health Protection Scheme. According to Jaitley, this scheme will protect 50 crore poor people and is poised to be the world’s largest health protection scheme. But the greatest challenge is whether money will percolate to those who matter, given the wide and tall architecture of corruption that still stands erect and threatens the country’s social sector schemes. This will be a litmus test for the government that has prioritized eradication of the cancer of corruption all along. In the education sector, an integrated BEd course has been announced, with the training of teachers as the chief focus. This apart, Rs 1 lakh crore will be invested in the next four years for a new drive to boost research and development. This, however, is a major challenge in view of the autonomy that our educatiol institutions lack when it comes to research and development and the low level and quality of our research projects as compared to the ones even in neighbouring Chi, let alone the best and thriving ones in the Western educatiol universe. Jaitley has underscored the importance of technology as the main driver in the educatiol sector, with every activity getting digitized rapidly or with increasing digital intensity. However, in many rural areas, the state of affairs in government-run schools is pathetic, and it is in these schools that most poor children are forced to study for lack of access to the better and best ones around. How the government will further boost digital intensity in educatiol institutions that are state-run will be keenly watched, especially because we so often hear of the country on the verge of becoming a knowledge society and we are informed at the same time by the fact that a giant mission in the me of the tiol Knowledge Commission has gone moribund for not giving any heed to some of its radical suggestions to overhaul the country’s higher education sector.
All said and done, the Budget, barring some of its unnecessary proposals such as the hike in the monthly salary of the President from the existing Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh (a huge hike by 200%) while the Head of the State already enjoys a plethora of the best facilities around despite being just a nomil head of the state, is a forward-looking one. Only, one awaits proper, honest and fast implementation of the schemes announced for a developed and resurgent India to happen.