View from India: Better infrastructure for inclusive growth

The Union Budget 2022-2023 has laid out plans for diverse verticals such as infrastructure, education and healthcare. Technology is the backbone of the vision.

India is preparing for its 100th year and the thrust is growth areas. One such being the PM Gati Shakti or the 'National Master Plan for Multimodal Connectivity' that was launched in October 2021. It’s a digital platform for the implementation of infrastructure connectivity projects. Budget 2022 has given a mega push for infrastructure development.

The Budget has envisioned Gati Shakti as a transformative approach for economic growth and sustainable development. The approach is driven by seven engines: namely roads, railways, airports, ports, mass transport, waterways and logistics infrastructure. All seven engines will pull forward the economy in unison. These engines are supported by the complementary roles of energy transmission; IT communication; bulk water and sewerage, and social infrastructure. Finally, the approach is powered by clean energy and Sabka Prayas – the efforts of the Central Government, the state governments and the private sector.

This is how it could work. Goods will move from roadways to railways to ports. Since Gati Shakti is IT-enabled, IT tools and satellite imagery could create tech-based operations for the goods and supply delivery chain. This may be a boon for the logistics industry, besides bringing fragmented supply chain manufacturers under its umbrella. Digital intervention could result in efficient deliverables in the supply chain.

“With Gati Shakti Masterplan for expressways, 100 new cargo terminals for multi-nodal logistics and the development of urban metro systems will give an immense enhancement to new warehousing and logistics facilities across the country. This will generate more job opportunities, turning up demand for both in the residential and commercial sector,” said Sandeep Sahni, chairman, iThum World. In order to take Gati Shakti forward, the government plans to launch 'Ease of Doing Business 2.0' to make India a more investment-friendly destination. A high-level panel to be set up for urban planning and modern building by-laws will be introduced. The overall outlook for the real estate sector seems optimistic.

Gati Shakti is expected to lead to huge job creation and entrepreneurial opportunities for everyone including the youth. “Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s proposal to augment the road infrastructure by 25,000km under the PM Gati Shakti plan will ensure better connectivity to smaller towns and villages. With the radical shift in people’s travel choices, post Covid, and the subsequent return of the road trips, investment in highway construction is surely an encouraging move and will provide key support to the travel and car rental companies in the upcoming years,” said Gaurav Agarwal, founder and CEO, Savaari Car Rentals.

With technology serving as the pivot in this year’s budget, there will be a renewed focus on the criticality of a robust cyber-security solution. “The seven engines of the PM Gati Shakti master plan encompassing the launch of 400 new-generation Vande Bharat trains and the national highway network will be key drivers in the demand for top-notch surveillance solutions. We are upbeat on the slew of recommendations for urban infrastructure development as this will be an impetus for not only generating employment but also reinvigorate the development of smart cities,” added Sudhindra Holla, director, Axis Communications, India and SAARC.

Gati Shakti’s sunrise opportunities could be understood as inclusive development; productivity enhancement; speedy connectivity, and economic opportunities. Clearly, all hopes are pinned on this. With the goal to complement macro-growth with micro-all-inclusive welfare and tech-enabled development, these measures are hoped to further strengthen India’s power as a global digital hub.

Moving on, the pandemic has compelled students to rely on online classes. That’s something students, teachers and parents were unfamiliar with. Naturally, the disruption made them feel skeptical. Two years down the line, ed-tech companies have opened out a new wave of thinking with online learning initiatives. And now, the Budget has a slew of measures that could well be a paradigm shift in the education scenario. FM has shared her concern about the schools being closed due to the pandemic. Obviously children in the rural areas have missed out on formal education over the last two years.

“We recognise the need to impart supplementary teaching and to build a resilient mechanism for education delivery. For this purpose, ‘one class-one TV channel’ program of PM eVIDYA will be expanded from 12 to 200 TV channels. This will enable all states to provide supplementary education in regional languages for classes 1-12,” announced Nirmala Sitharaman, the finance minister. The allocation of the education budget has increased to Rs 1.04 lakh crore from Rs 93,224 crore of last year. This is a progressive budget for the education sector.

“At the higher education level, the government is looking forward to open world-class 'digital universities'. This will certainly force existing institutions to raise the bar of quality of education at higher education levels. Those Indian universities already providing quality education would not lose much, but sub-quality education providers would be badly hit,” said Nasir Shaikh, CEO, Lexicon group of Institutes and Multifit.

What is interesting is that the government intends to provide economical and quality education at all levels. It is intended to set up 750 virtual labs in science and mathematics and 75 skilling e-labs for simulated learning environment. The opening of ‘Start-up to facilitate Drone Shakti to Drone-as-Service’ is an indicator of harnessing technology at its best. The education landscape may unfold opportunities in English and vernaculars for e-content providers and marketers.

The approach towards healthcare has altered during the pandemic. Sadly, the pandemic has taken its toll on many people who suffered from depression and loneliness. Appropriately, the Budget has put the spotlight on mental health. “With a big push for capex which has been increased from INR 5.54 lakh crore to INR 7.50 lakh crore, we look forward to this providing fillip for improving health facilities and hospital infrastructure and access in the country. The open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem will not only encourage people to buy health insurance but will also widen the access to quality healthcare,” explained Dr Shravan Subramanyam, managing director, Wipro GE Healthcare and President and CEO, GE Healthcare (India and South Asia).

The launch of the 'National Tele Mental Health Program' represents a progressive step towards recognising and acting on mental health issues, especially considering the emotional toll that Covid-19 has taken on people. “The government’s focus on holistic health encompassing physical as well as mental well-being is the right step towards a strong health system. We also recognise and applaud the government’s efforts towards a digitised healthcare system that is well-aligned with the National Digital Health Mission,” added Dr Subramanyam.

The health fraternity could scale-up technologies to aid safe, effective and efficient care. The focus would be on affordable and quality healthcare. “The rollout of a National Digital Health Ecosystem will ensure that all segments of the society are able to access affordable and adequate healthcare in a seamless and efficient manner. Such an ecosystem can potentially make universal healthcare a reality for India,” said Dr GSK Velu, chairman, Trivitron Healthcare and Neuberg Diagnostics.

Technology is connecting patients with healthcare providers. “Truly a bold, forward-looking budget that lays the roadmap to steer the economy over the next decade and turn it into a truly digital ecosystem. It is heartening that the Finance Minister has recognised the importance of telecommunication as a medium of growth of tele-health in India,” summed up Ajay Sharma, co-founder of DESH Clinics.

The Budget’s emphasis on rapid deployment of optical fibres in underserved geographies, earmarking 5 per cent of 'Universal Service Obligation' fund for affordable broadband and mobile services in rural and remote areas, and the roll out of the National Digital Health Ecosystem, are hugely welcome. This could enable an explosion of tele-health services across the country, connecting patients in rural areas with medical specialists in metros, and solving the problem of accessibility.

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