Budget provides Rs10,000 cr for rural broadband connectivity

The Union Budget for 2017-18 proposes to pump Rs10,000 crore into the BharatNet project in the coming financial year to strengthen the government's Digital India push, finance minister Arun Jaitley stated in his budget speech.

Calling telecom sector an important component of the infrastructure eco-system, Jaitley noted that the recent spectrum auctions have removed spectrum scarcity in the country. This will give a major fillip to mobile broadband and Digital India for the benefit of people living in rural and remote areas.

Further, for the BharatNet Project, the allocation has been stepped up to Rs10,000 crore in 2017-18 and 1,55,000 km of optical fibre cables have been laid. Jaitley said that by the end of 2017-18, high speed broadband connectivity on optical fibre will be available in more than 1,50,000 gram panchayats, with WiFi hot spots and access to digital services at low tariffs.

A DigiGaon initiative will be launched to provide tele-medicine, education and skills through digital technology, he added.

Simultaneously, the Budget has given a major push to digital economy by proposing no cash transaction above Rs3 lakh, in an effort to weed out corruption and black money. The finance minister has proposed an amendment to the Income-tax Act in the Finance Bill.

To facilitate cashless transactions, the government plans to launch schemes to promote BHIM app, Aadhar Enabled Payment System, etc and has targeted 25 billion digital transactions in 2017-18.

Jaitley said that the government will launch two new schemes to promote the usage of BHIM App -  Referral Bonus Scheme for individuals and a Cashback Scheme for merchants. BHIM App was launched to promote digital transactions and will unleash the power of mobile phones for digital payments and financial inclusion, The finance minister informed Parliament that 12.5 million people have adopted the BHIM app so far.

Jaitley also announced that Aadhar Pay, a merchant version of Aadhar Enabled Payment System, will be launched shortly. This will be specifically beneficial for those who do not have debit cards, mobile wallets and mobile phones. A mission will be set up with a target of 25 billion digital transactions for 2017-18 through UPI, USSD, Aadhar Pay, IMPS and debit cards.

Banks have targeted to introduce additional 1 million new PoS terminals by March 2017. They will be encouraged to introduce 2 million Aadhar based PoS by September 2017.

Highlighting the government's strategy to clean the system through digital economy, Jaitley said that it has a transformative impact in terms of greater formalisation of the economy and mainstreaming of financial savings into the banking system. This, in turn, is expected to energise private investment in the country through lower cost of credit. India is now on the cusp of a massive digital revolution, he added.