Union Budget 2021

Here’s what Industry experts expect from Union Budget 2021

As you are aware, the Union Budget for the next fiscal year will be announced on 1 February 2021. As the prolonged lockdown has drastically impacted the economy, former RBI Governor Duvvuri Subba Rao says that India will witness a V-shaped recovery. We can expect from the upcoming budget, the strengthening of the digital infrastructure in India. Look at what Industry experts in the market and economy expect from the upcoming Budget 2021

Akash Sinha, Co-Founder and CEO of Cashfree:In 2020, the Indian Fintech sector emerged as a key industry player with the accelerated adoption of digital payments. However, post the Covid-19 induced pandemic lockdown in March 2020, NBFCs and lending companies took a massive hit, suffering multiple setbacks in a backdrop of stressed borrowers and pandemic-struck defaulters. Internet-based lenders had lost momentum, with both collections and disbursal of loans down by 90%. We expect the new budget to include supportive initiatives to provide a modern payments framework which can ensure high-quality performance while gearing up for the next wave of transformation.

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Akash Sinha, Co-Founder and CEO of Cashfree

We are looking forward to RBI’s Regulatory Sandbox which recently included cross-border payments as the second cohort after retail payments being the first. This move opens up more avenues for fintech as well as offers global expansion opportunities for businesses. Fintech players such as Payment Aggregators, Banks, B2B and B2C, e-commerce marketplaces, aggregators of offline retailers (like digital ledger apps), non-bank lending SMEs, Neo Banks, and others all play a huge role in driving economic growth for India, and we look forward to increasing space forhomegrown innovation. Whether through easing access to financial services or resolving any other issue via a range of services, fintech enables businesses of all shapes and sizes to explore their potential. 

Clear regulatory frameworks would help in assessing the legality of fintech or verifying compliance/licensing. A separate regulatory body would aid in providing transparency in digital payments and also clearly define a framework that caters to unique and new use cases that proliferate as the payment ecosystem matures.

While we support the government’s idea to incentivize small merchants to adopt digital payments by introducing Zero Merchant Discount Rate (MDR) on UPI andRuPay cards, to ensure that banks also feel encouraged to upgrade their systems, a discounted MDR for RuPay and slab-based MDR on UPI transactions would help.

We expect this year’s Union Budget to introduce supportive policymaking that encourages healthy competition and ensures innovation is not curtailed.

Roopa Kudva, Managing Director at Omidyar Network India:We hope to see the upcoming budget prioritize building robust and responsible digital infrastructure, especially in sectors like health and education, where physical systems have been under a lot of pressure during the pandemic. We have seen commendable efforts to create Open Digital Ecosystems (ODEs) in these sectors, through the National Digital Health Mission, and the DIKSHA platform. ODEs can improve service delivery by enabling transparency, interoperability, and spurring innovation.

 

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Roopa Kudva, Managing Director at Omidyar Network India

Similar to how UPI brought about a paradigm shift in the way financial services are delivered and facilitated financial inclusion, digital ecosystems for health and education can ensure that every Indian has access to affordable and quality healthcare and education opportunities. Using the ODE approach, the government can further strengthen digital benefit transfer mechanisms, as many more households are relying on these social safety nets in the wake of the economic shock caused by the pandemic.

In particular, the budget should ensure that funding is allocated not only for building the technology infrastructure, but also the critical non-tech layers of these Open Digital Ecosystems, such as putting in place accountable institutions with the right capacity, governance frameworks to safeguard citizens’ rights, and community engagement.”

Vamsi Krishna, CEO & Co-founder, Vedantu:  “2020 has changed the fundamentals of learning in India. Owing to the closure of physical schools and tutorial centers, online learning has witnessed massive adoption. LIVE online learning has helped students gain access to quality teachers and content and EdTech platforms have made education more personalized, fun, and interactive. Technology is the main pillar to democratize education and it can create powerful communities. It has played a vital role in enabling the shift, especially in cities and towns with high-speed internet connectivity.

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Vamsi Krishna, CEO & Co-founder, Vedantu

However infrastructural issues in the form of internet access as well as smartphone and PC penetration owing to the lack of affordability has proved to be a major roadblock in the adoption of online learning in many parts of India. Digital infrastructure in schools, basic devices for students to access online education through PCs, tablets, and mobile phones as well as seamless internet connectivity, is the need of the hour. We are optimistic that the upcoming budget will deliver on these and bring hope to students and teachers in small-town India.”

Manoj Paul, Managing Director, GPX India:The budget should focus on facilitating the growth of the digital economy which encompasses not only the large and medium enterprises but also micro enterprises. For accelerated digitization of the economy, the budget needs to allocate funds towards the development of telecom infrastructure in rural and urban areas.

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Manoj Paul, Managing Director, GPX India

Incentives for mobile network service providers in terms of license fee and other charges will help improve networks to ensure data connectivity is widely available. The budget should set direction for promoting data centers with necessary reforms to improve ease of doing business. Tax breaks should be considered for a Capex intensive sector like data centers.”

Nikhil Rathi, CEO & Founder of Web Werks Datacenters India: The last budget gave an impetus to the development of the data center industry in India. We hope budget 2021 will have ground-breaking announcements that will take this development to the next level. We look forward to policies that encourage the use of renewable energy in power data centers. Electricity duty benefits in this sector is something that should be considered. While the data center market is growing in the country it still remains an underserved market. Hence the process of acquiring approvals and licenses linked with the setting up of data centers should be eased. 

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Nikhil Rathi, CEO & Founder of Web Werks Datacenters India

As part of the Atmanirbhar campaign, the government should encourage the purchase of locally manufactured equipment for use in data centers by giving fiscal benefits. The government should also encourage corporates to store their data within the country by providing tax benefits. Finally, the government should award infrastructure status’ for data centers in India.”

Dr Rishi Bhatnagar, President, Aeris Communications:After five years of the Digital India Mission and Post COVID, right from businesses to government, have realized the need to implement digital technologies, especially IoT. We witnessed accelerated pace of technology adoption during lockdowns, especially in the healthcare and education sector. However, given that the pandemic is still not over, a robust digital infrastructure is required to sustain large, medium and small businesses, the outlook needs due diligence to promote more local innovations under the ‘Make in India’, ‘Atamnirbhar’ campaigns.

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Dr Rishi Bhatnagar, President, Aeris Communications:

Though the government made few announcements to narrow the digital divide in 2020, for enabling a global competitive edge with natural growth, the Government needs to support with special investment package for facilitating the Small to Medium Enterprise sector’s technology adoption and implementation. This will go a long way in making India Atmanirbhar and a global leader. I believe that the Government will come up with schemes to help boost innovation and the economy. The upcoming budget needs to focus on integrating technology with data privacy and security designed at the core, across multiple sectors like manufacturing, automobile, and healthcare.”

Nishant Rathi, CEO & Founder of NeoSOFT Technologies: 2020 saw a large number of brick-and-mortar and other sectors that were pre-dominant on the traditional model of business operations divert towards the digital path. Owing to this eCommerce, health-tech, ed-tech, and many such sectors enhanced and evolved to embrace the new-normal by resorting to technology support.

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Nishant Rathi, CEO & Founder of NeoSOFT Technologies

The education sector seemed to be the most vulnerable one, immediately sprung up to make a major shift towards going digital and boosting the national EdTech scene. The pandemic also drove healthcare to leverage their services through telemedicine, remote diagnosing, and contact-tracing to name just a few. 

Looking at this tremendous surge in businesses laddering up the digital curve, this year’s budget should accommodate flexibility in helping them elevate further. Enterprises with tight budgets and limited resources should be encouraged and empowered. 

Additionally, there should be provisions that make it easy for companies to upskill/reskill their current team so that the digital goals are driven meticulously and strategically.

As proposed, also expect considerable reforms in the taxation and compliance laws, and in seeking subsidies. We expect the upcoming budget to address the nation’s emerging eCommerce, EdTech, and healthcare sectors to encourage innovation and generate opportunities for these sectors.”

Surabhi Goel, CEO, Aditya Birla World Academy: We believe one of the sectors that requires some focus in the upcoming Union Budget 2021 is education. With the pandemic and ensuing lockdown having disrupted the sector to a great extent, students and teachers were not prepared for the sudden shift to online forms of teaching and learning. This new normal in education calls for a renewed focus and investments in order for our educational institutions to be at par with their global counterparts.

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Surabhi Goel, CEO, Aditya Birla World Academy

There is an increased need for investing in virtual forms of education and training through digital tools, upskilling and digital training for teachers through interactive mentoring sessions, leadership training and more. Further, the government can also bring to light the importance of easing the challenges faced by students with learning disabilities in order to build a conducive learning atmosphere that fuels their growth. We hope the government increases the funds allocated to the education sector especially when it comes to resources such as the internet as this will open up countless new opportunities for the sector to grow and thrive.”

Nikhil Das, Founder, Agdhi: We have yet again reached that time of the year when the industry awaits the annual budget with heightened anticipation and expectations. For me personally, a conducive budget is likely to considerably improve the business prospects. And thereby, we expect Prime Minister Modi and Nirmala Sitharaman Ji to deliver on the hopes and aspirations of the agritech sector.

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Although fairly nascent in India, the sector has the potential to improve productivity by manifold, if provided with the right kind of incentives and opportunities. At a time, when the farmers are not entirely convinced about the new farm laws, it is the perfect opportunity to provide them with avenues that would improve productivity significantly.
For this, the Modi government can either announce subsidy or cutback on taxes to farmers who opt for agritech products. Thereby encouraging farmers to adopt agritech in a big way than in the past when there wasn’t enough awareness of technological interventions in agriculture.
Besides this, agriculture was the only sector that has shown resilience during the COVID crisis to grow by 3.4% in the current fiscal year. This remarkable achievement amidst overwhelming odds shows the unmatched potential of the agricultural sector. This growth trajectory could be acknowledged by the government through agricultural-centric policies that provide the necessary boost to the overall economy. Such policies would also help associated sectors like agritech that are closely aligned to agriculture.
In the current scenario, when the world is taking note of India’s efforts in combating the COVID pandemic, the government must present a budget that paves the way for economic revival. On behalf of the industry, I would like to request the government to put policies in place that allows farmers to be better aware of technology-centric approaches in farming. This can be done as an offshoot of the much-publicized “Digital India” where there was added impetus on the adoption of digital technology.
We envision a future where technology has a significant role in providing the average farmer with the best productivity from their limited means. Hope the government gives agritech the necessary opportunities & incentives to grow as a robust sector within the Indian economy.”
Neha Bagaria, Founder, Jobsforher: “We expect the Budget 2021-22 to ensure we create the talent pipeline required to service business needs in this new post-Covid world which has become increasingly digitised. As the jobs of the future become increasingly tech-based, we need to ensure women are equal participants also.
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Neha Bagaria, Founder, Jobsforher

The budget should accommodate for skilling programs for women to upskill themselves in the latest technologies which further helps them contribute to the country’s GDP. Also the pandemic has seen a huge increase in flexible & contract workers who will need inclusive policies, perks and benefits so that we can benefit from the wide talent of women who are seeking flexibility with arrangements.”
Satish Pala, Senior Vice President, Digital Solutions, Indium Software:The 2021 Union Budget is awaited with bated breath by India’s IT industry after having gone through a downward spiral due to the pandemic.
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Satish Pala, Senior Vice President, Digital Solutions, Indium Software

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Analytics firms that cater to services in machine learning, deep learning, big data, IOT Analytics, Industrial IOT, etc, are in the same boat as well. There are a few areas that could benefit the AI & Analytics Industry such as:

-Tax benefits in niche AI products & services could help assist in more R&D investments by private firms. This in turn will increase the ecosystem of Make In India AI firms from start-ups to established firms.
-Another expectation would be for the government to invest more in AI related courses, R&D centres and digital initiatives.

-Data Security & privacy related policies and guidelines could help bring some sanity into the chaotic digital space with explosion of data assets.”

Lakshmi Mittra, VP and Head, Clover Academy: “As enterprises move on with their business continuity plans for 2021 after a year full of tech disruptions, the aim should now be to adapt fully to the new normal, and upskilling and reskilling are an integral part of this process. Organizations now need to focus on holistic development of employees and not just on technical skillset enhancement.

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Lakshmi Mittra, VP and Head, Clover Academy

Since, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and augmentation are increasingly getting integrated in the workplace, digital literacy has become an imperative for employees to function seamlessly in the post COVID – 19 era. Training and reskilling at organizational level is not going to help the workforce of future. The government need to take this opportunity to re-look at university curricula and skilling programmes and update it with relevant digital-age skills. It must create the technology infrastructure and internet penetration to create a democratized opportunity to learn digital skills.

Furthermore, it must come up with learning and development initiatives at various levels – national, state, districts and towns to train the fresh talent in these new-age skillsets that have become vital for survival in the new normal.”

Amit Gupta, CEO & Founder at Rapyder:  “The unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic has; without doubt; adversely impacted world economy at large. Almost every industry has borne the brunt and MSMEs are severely affected with many closing down, probably permanently.
However, IT & ITeS sector has seen spike in growth across some industry verticals in the wake of the pandemic. Sectors such as EdTech, FinTech, HealthTech, HRTech, amongst others, have seen significant boosts. This will continue to fuel growth of Cloud-Tech, AI-based and other new-age technologies across business domains.
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Amit Gupta, CEO & Founder at Rapyder

Knowing well that MSMEs are the biggest growth drivers to the economy and the second largest sector after agriculture, Government should extend credit facilities for them and provide means for new-age technology adoption. Rigid regulatory compliance and tax burdens should be revised, which can provide impetus for growth and expansion. 
This will increase hiring and businesses can largely contribute to the GDP. Revised tax policies, less complex GST structure and relevant policies that provide thrust for digital innovation can incentivize home-grown start-ups and brands. Such a solution can help MSMEs to operate in a more level-playing field which has MNCs and other established players.”

Pronam Chatterjee CEO, BluePi Consulting Pvt. Ltd.:Retail industry came to a virtual standstill during the pandemic and was one of the worst-hit sectors. The cascading effects impacted the entire value chain that serves the industry.

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Pronam Chatterjee CEO, BluePi Consulting Pvt. Ltd.

The festive season has shown signs of recovery with major retailers recuperating to around 90% of pre-covid sales. But the recovery is still nascent and not strong enough to carry on without support. A few things that we expect from the budget are measures to improve the disposable income in the short term, by reducing the tax burden and thereby spurring demand. The supply side of the value chain also needs to be supported by easing retailers’ access to capital.

Ease of doing business and access to capital should be the focus area for the retail sector in this budget. MSME does not cover the retail trading that constitutes a bulk of retailers; if they are not manufacturing. On the other hand, the garment manufacturers are considered MSME, but without a special package that assists them with working capital, they would also be left high and dry. So we expect the government to broaden the MSME umbrella and announce special packaged for retailers under MSME so that they can tide over these challenging times.”

Gaurav Shinh, Founder and CEO at DAAS Labs: The government has started realizing the importance of new technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning and has even called Data as the new oil in the previous Budget 2020 . According to a recent NASSCOM report, Deep-tech and new start-up hubs will continue to grow at 40-45% CAGR. It also stated that investments are expected to return to 2019 levels,after seeing a dip in 2020 (if not exceed in 2021).

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Gaurav Shinh, Founder and CEO at DAAS Labs

The pandemic has been a huge boost to Edtech, AgriTech, FinTech, HRtech and HealthTech startups. So, we expect to see decisions to fuel the growth of cloud-data storage, big data and AI technologies in several domains. The work from home trend due to the pandemic has seen a lot of investment being made in Tier II and Tier III cities and the trend is supposed to continue. Reforms are expected to support and enable these start-ups as they can have a huge long term impact.”

Ketan Doshi, MD PayPoint India: For the Payments industry, the honorable Finance Minister should reconsider the complete elimination of merchant discount rate (MDR) on Rupay and UPI transactions which will support a sustainable growth in digital payments. To further the Financial Inclusion in the country, I feel all transactions happening under PMJDY should be exempted from the GST levy.

Bank accounts opened under PMJDY are basically of low ticket size. However, the operating cost to service this under-served community is very high till it reaches a substantial base hence the exemption. This Budget should have enough measures to infuse liquidity, benefiting small and medium enterprises, especially those in the hinterlands. PSU banks must lead this mandates in partnership with FinTech’s – either through co-lending or lead-generation model.”

Eddie Chandok, President of Global Delivery at Infogain: The COVID 19 pandemic significantly disrupted economic and business outlook for the year 2020. The integration of technology and digital transformation of organizations across sectors such as retail, manufacturing, travel and hospitality, insurance etc., will help build resilience as well as play an important role in business recovery over the next year.

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Eddie Chandok, President of Global Delivery at Infogain

With India Inc. reeling under the stress caused by a drop in GDP, weak market, job losses, cash crunch and more, the government needs to continue positioning India as an international IT hub and invest more in the technology for faster creation of digital infrastructure for economic recovery.

In the Union Budget for 2021, we could see emergence of new initiatives and progressive policy interventions that will propel digital adoption across industries. This year, the government will also need to strengthen its focus on the development of emerging technologies, IT, entrepreneurship and quality of talent in the country. Only by incentivizing the use of emerging technologies like 5G, IoT, AI, Cloud and more, will India still have a chance at realizing, what at present looks like, ‘an ambitious goal’ of becoming a 5 Trillion Dollar economy by 2025.”

Ganesh Subramanian, Chief Financial Officer, Tally Solutions:There is tremendous scope for Indian Software Products to build upon the strength of Indian IT industry, and the innovative & technological capabilities in the country. India has done well in software services and our next big opportunity is in software products.

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Ganesh Subramanian, Chief Financial Officer, Tally Solutions

To realise the potential of the software product industry in an optimal manner, there is a need for a framework to work in synergy and ease in certain taxation issues followed by the software product industry, as enumerated below:

· Dispense TDS on purchase of software: Presently, under section 194 J of the Income Tax Act, TDS @ 10% is applicable on software purchase. The income tax does not make difference in software product and software service. Software products are classified as Goods. Being a Goods, only software product attracts TDS and there are no other tradeable goods that come under the purview of 10% TDS. Particularly, for new start up and new ventures, when they are already struggling for working capital, this TDS become additional cash outgo, causing cash crunch to the Industry. We expect that Government either remove this TDS or at least reduce it to 2%.

· HSN /SAC Code for Software Products: There is big dilemma that exists in the industry about using of HSN/SAC code for software products, especially in case of software products delivered through electronic medium and software as a service (Sass), hosted on cloud platform. Government may clarify the same

· R&D incentives to software companies: Till FY 2020, the software product companies were enjoying the benefit through tax incentive for their spends on research and development. Such benefits were extended in the form of additional deduction under section 35(2AB) of the Income Tax Act. This benefit has been withdrawn effective 01 April 2020. The government may extend such incentive schemes or equivalent benefits, in order to promote Research & Development in the Software product sector”

Jatin Jakharia, Co-Founder & CFO, WorkIndia: Since 98% of our employer base is SME, we have closely witnessed the economic activity among SMEs. Hiring is 70% of pre-covid levels, implying SMEs haven’t been able to still recover. SMEs are the heart of India; Govt can do more to provide more relief so that economic activity among the SMEs increases, which leads to more job creation and which in turn leads to more hiring in the blue collared segment (almost 23.7 cr in India).

Aalok Kumar, President and CEO, NEC Corporation India:Undoubtedly, the budget for 2021-22 is expected to act as an inflection point in propelling the Indian economy back into action from the aftermath of the pandemic. While boosting investment, job creation and increasing expenditure on infrastructure and healthcare are expected to remain a priority for the Finance Minister, the past year has shone a spotlight on the need for rapid digital transformation in both the public and private sector as it sits at the core of how businesses, big or small, optimize their performance. 

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Aalok Kumar, President and CEO, NEC Corporation India

In the past few budgets, the Government has taken adequate steps to give the technology sector its due, however, as we move into the new financial year, it would be of utmost importance to now lay emphasis on ease of adoption for digital infrastructure and technology for everyone.

India still lags in research and development, local component manufacturing and innovation and therefore incentives should be given to the sector to support the existing research and development centres and additionally create new centres with world-class infrastructure. I firmly believe that the vast pool of talent combined with the research infrastructure can create new cutting edge skill differentiation in the deep tech sector to enable India to take centre-stage and unlock India’s potential in the global tech space.

As a long-standing partner to the Government of India, NEC has significantly invested in creating centres of excellence and with the 5G revolution knocking on our doors, it would be recommended to infuse funds to enable the economy to harness the power of 5G. The advent of Industry 4.0 and its impact on the daily lives of Indian citizens, the technology sector deserves a well-thought-out thrust to enable competitiveness, drive innovation in the country and help the nation realize the vision of truly becoming self-reliant.”

Varun Babbar, Managing Director, Qlik: “FY 2020 was a difficult year for everyone and this budget will be a vital one as the country needs to balance investing for the future while dealing with the immediate after effects of an economic slowdown. While some industries were hit harder than others, there have been some bright spots in the overall tech front – we have seen both the private and public sector accelerate digital transformation and invest much more into analytics and AI to solve real problems, quickly.

The Government’s twin vision of becoming a 5 trillion-dollar economy and building an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ will depend on how we invest today. There is a clear need for upskilling in areas like critical thinking and data literacy together with further creating infrastructure not just in terms of technology, but also the legal framework around data, data privacy and AI. We look forward to a budget that clearly balances solving today’s issues while still thinking long-term so we can build a strong and resilient economy that will propel India to newer heights this decade.”

Sonit Jain, CEO of GajShield Infotech: “With a strong push for Make in India, it was never been more exciting ever for companies making products in India for the World. This year, we would like the government to include tax exemption for companies making products in India and also for employees working in such companies.

With data security being as important as revenue growth for companies, a policy framework to enhance the digital culture of India, by incentivising companies to build strong data security infrastructure will fuel further growth of India.

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Sonit Jain, CEO of GajShield Infotech

Covid has shown how Work From Home is no longer a buzz word, but a necessity, we look forward that this budgetaccelerates spending in rural digital infrastructure, thus making work from anywhere a true possibility. This will not only ensure the development of our rural economy but also help in decongesting cities. All of this would require a workforce well equipped with the knowledge of latest technology, spending on education to boost research in universities will help build a nation with knowledgeable and intelligent future generation.”

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