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Let’s Zoom In On Union Budget 2018 For Tech Startups

Let’s Zoom In On Union Budget 2018 For Tech Startups

Let’s Take A Look At The Policies And Budget Allocation Pertaining To Indian Startups

Addressing the parliament during his much awaited Union Budget 2018 session, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had turned to Swami Vivekananda’s teachings to appease the lower-middle class segment of the country. I, however, writing for startups, would like to invoke Author Randy Thurman, who said,

“A penny saved is worth two pennies earned . . . after taxes”.

Forget about savings. The prominent question is, do Indian startups even have enough money to pay the taxes? With no mention of Angel Tax in the Union Budget 2018, the Finance Minister has simply tried to pass his compulsion in silence, since other challenges such as healthcare and rural infrastructure development were too big to ignore, it seems.

Seeing the big picture, Chanda Kochhar, MD and CEO of ICICI Bank has once again backed the budget, saying,

The Union Budget 2018-19 has done a commendable job in holistically addressing the various priorities of the Indian economy. It has addressed the social sector priorities and charted out a clear plan to boost infrastructure while maintaining fiscal discipline. Overall, the budget has laid out a vision for higher economic growth along with social empowerment through a holistic approach to various sections of the economy.”

As expected, grilled and sandwiched between a populist budget and an investment-friendly budget, Jaitley could hardly conjure up anything new that could step up the startup momentum in the country. However, upon zooming in, Inc42 did find some offerings that, after pulverisation, might be servable to the startups.

While most of the figures presented in Jaitley’s speech were multiple year figures and have already been reported by Inc42 here, let’s take a look at the outlay and outcome of the budget-frame for 2018-2019 that affects the Indian tech startups!

Union Budget 2018: Allocations To Startup-Related Schemes And Their Projected Outcomes

Startup India Scheme

Let’s first take a look at the major announcements from the Union Budget 2018 in context of Startup India.

  • $43.8 Mn (INR 281 Cr) has been allotted to the scheme of Investment Promotion Startup India.
  • $31 Mn (INR 200 Cr) will be injected to Atal Innovation Mission
  • $112.25 Mn (INR 720 Cr) has been kept for innovation, technology development and deployment
  • $13.7 Mn (INR 87.86 Cr) has been kept for the development of an entrepreneurship scheme

Investment Promotion Startup India

During the Budget, Jaitley announced an allotment of $43.8 Mn to the scheme of Investment Promotion Startup India. The main goal of this scheme is to enable India to stand among the top 10 most preferred FDI destinations in the world. It further aims to help India make a considerable jump in Ease of Doing Business rankings where it currently stands at the 100th position, thereby creating favourable conditions for startups.  

The next aim of the scheme is to facilitate and support 1,000 startups by March 2019 through policy advocacy, business plan advisory and connections for financing avenues. The scheme will help connect these 1000 startups and 100K entrepreneurs on a single platform i.e. Startup India Hub, thereby providing enough help, connection and networking opportunities for startups to connect with investors, other startups, accelerators etc. via the virtual hub.

This will further help improve investor confidence to boost investment and economic growth, thus facilitating the emergence of innovative startups that will help create a culture of entrepreneurship among the country’s youth and encourage more of them to become risk-taking job creators rather than job seekers.

Welcoming this move, Dr. Apoorv Ranjan Sharma, Co-founder & President, Venture Catalysts commented,

“The launch of Startup India programme, the building of a robust alternative investment regime and rolling out specially designed taxation regime for VC funds and angel investors, all put together will truly act as a catalyst for the startup ecosystem in the country. This lays emphasis that the government wants to further support and strengthen the investor community and also establish the angel investment as an asset class.”

Atal Innovation Mission And Incubator Support

During the Union Budget 2018, the Finance Minister also allotted $31 Mn (INR 200 Cr) to the Atal Innovation Mission. The fund targets to set up 600 new Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs) in 1,500 schools, which were selected in 2017-18 on the basis of compliance as per ATL guidelines.

The funding will also support 21 established incubation centres selected in 2017-18 which are under compliance as per Established Incubation Centres ( EIC) guidelines as well as Atal Incubation Centre (AIC) and 11 established Incubation Centres (AICs) selected in 2017-18, which are also under compliance as per EIC guidelines.

Over $112.25 Mn (INR 720 Cr) has been kept separately for innovation, technology development and deployment, which will be used to feed 70 technology business incubators (TBIs) and other startup related activities.

A sum of $13.7 Mn (INR 87.86 Cr) has been kept for the development of an entrepreneurship scheme to enhance the entrepreneurial ability of the youth in the country.

Is that Enough?

While expecting a lot at several fronts, the announcements are like cumin in a camel’s mouth. Earlier in 2015, the government had formed Fund Of Funds to support the startup ecosystem. The government had also promised to fuel INR $1.56 Bn (10,000 Cr) to the Fund Of Funds during the course of five years. However, it has been two years since then and only $14 Mn (INR 90.25 Cr) has actually been pumped into startups.

Hence, at a time when angel funding has also gone down by over 53% due to government’s wrong tax policy, startups were expecting really big in terms of funding as well as policy.

Electric Vehicles

For the faster adoption and manufacturing of electric (and hybrid) vehicles, an amount of $40.5 Mn (INR 260 Cr) has been allotted to support market development of hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs).

The proposed funding will help create an ecosystem through the provision of subsidy for the purchase of EVs, charging infrastructure and supporting R&D for indigenous development of key components of electric vehicles.

The funding aims to provide a subsidy for the introduction of over 1,000 electric vehicles, along with ‘charging infrastructure’, in the public transport segment (buses, taxis, 3-wheelers) across 11 cities.

Does It Fulfil The Great 2030 All-Electric Plan?

As promised by the PM Narendra Modi at Paris Climate Exchange 2016, the central government has already set a nearly impossible target to go all electric by 2030.

However, the mere funding of $40 Mn to promote EVs will nowhere suffice the requirements of National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP). As the fact of the matter, out of 25 Mn motor-vehicles produced in 2016, only 25,000 were EVs.

Manufacturing EVs domestically, for instance, comes with the hurdle of high costs. Similarly, the production of batteries is largely an expensive affair. To be able to mitigate these challenges, the Indian government will have to focus its efforts on facilitating technological disruption through incentives and tax exemptions. If successful, the shift to shared, electric and connected mobility could potentially help India save up to $300 Bn (INR 20 Lakh Cr) in oil imports and nearly 1 gigatonne of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

Digital India

Over $480 Mn (INR 3,073 Cr) has been allotted solely for Digital India programmes with no output and deliverables mentioned.

As part of the outcome, the funding aims to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. Inclusive progress in three dimensions namely digital infrastructure as a utility to citizens, governance and services on demand and digital empowerment of citizens.

Separately, an amount of $48 Mn (INR 300 Cr) will be spent on manpower development in Digital India.

Additionally, a sum of $66.3 Mn (INR 425 Cr) will be spent on e-governance related projects such as 70K CSCs, MeghRaj Cloud, issuing 20 Mn e-signatures and continued financial support to NeGP projects like SWAN, SDC, e-Districts, SSDG and capacity building.

Digital India aims to move towards paperless, faceless and cashless access to e-governance services in a seamless manner, geared towards creating a knowledge economy.

Over $39 Mn (INR 250 Cr) has been allocated for setting up of Integrated Land Information Management Systems in 100 districts.

Previously known as Planning Commission, NITI Aayog will initiate a national programme on Artificial Intelligence(AI).  Centres of excellence will be set up on robotics, AI, Internet of Things, etc.

The Initiative To Boost Tech Startup Ecosystem

Tech startups, at large, have already benefited either directly or indirectly from initiatives such as demonetisation, Digital India, Skill India and Make India initiatives. The funding will help further strengthen the cashless India campaign while the establishment of a Centre of Excellence by Niti Aayog will help merge the gap exists in AI, ML and IoT etc.

Prabhakar Chaudhary, MD, HAL Robotics said,

“Emphasising Digital India powered by AI and by allocating a substantial fund, this government has seriously understood the need and capability of technology. It’s great to see that the government is recognising future technology for building the nation’s future. Not only this helps in job creation but also advances the nation in competitive global space.”

Department of Commerce 

An amount of over $390 Mn (INR 2,500 Cr) has been allotted for Interest Equalisation Scheme on Pre and Post Shipment Rupee Export Credit. The scheme aims to improve the competitiveness of MSMEs in identified export sectors.

Department of Information & Communication Technology

As most tech startups are completely reliant on Internet penetration and consumption in India, the Department of ICT has definitely brought some good news in this regard.

Over $1.56 Bn (INR10,000 Cr) has been provided in Budget 2018-19 for the creation and augmentation of the country’s telecom infrastructure. The government proposes to set up 500K WiFi hotspots, which will provide broadband access to 50 Mn rural citizens. The Finance Minister informed that the Phase I of Bharatnet Project has already enabled broadband access to over 20 Cr rural Indians.

A sum of $70 Mn (INR 450 Cr) has been kept for the installation of 25,000 WiFi hotspots using the block level infrastructure of BSNL telephone exchanges in rural areas.

The scheme will result in the installation and commissioning of 25,000 WiFi hotspots to help target users in using end-user devices like smartphones, tablets, etc.

BharatNet Phase I and II: Over $1.25 Bn (INR 8,000 Cr) will be fed to provide affordable broadband services in rural areas across 150K gram panchayats.

More Penetration, Bigger The Market

While online aggregators like Ola, Uber and marketplace Flipkart, and hyperlocal marketplace like BigBasket have not been able to penetrate rural areas owing to the weak Internet penetration as part of the core problem (along with meeting the needs of Supply Chain), grand projects like BharatNet and the installation of WiFi hotspots certainly deepen the penetration of tech startups further.

Gautam Sinha, CEO of Times Internet stated,

“The announcements regarding the allocation of $480 Mn (INR 3,073 Cr) to the Digital India scheme and the allocation of $1.56 Bn (INR 10,000) Cr for the telecom sector will help in the development of rural WiFi, providing easy internet access by setting up five lakh WiFi hotspots. The government’s move will definitely help the industry in tapping unmapped areas of the country and would allow consumers to access the digital landscape and benefit from its offerings.”

Ministry Of Corporate Affairs

With the help of $1.45 Mn (INR 9.45 Cr), a Corporate Data Management (CDM) system will be established for in-house data mining and analytics support to the Ministry to effectively utilise the vast repository of information in its Corporate Registry.

This will help in making the information available to the Ministry and to other policy and decision making agencies within and outside the Government. Conceptualisation and design of revenue generating model for data dissemination.

The system aims to make policymaking more effective, while also bringing better analytical research to the corporate sector.

This will help startups get their registrations done from MCA swiftly.

Education

Under the National Mission on Cultural Mapping and Roadmap, $4.7 Mn (INR 30 Cr) will be spent to make high quality and large elearning resources available free of cost to all stakeholders.

An amount of $62.4 Mn (INR 400 Cr) will be fed to Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA) to make 50 Mn additional citizens digitally literate.

What’s For Startups?

With government pledged to provide Internet facilities to rural areas and improve the rural infrastructure, any policy to promote elearning will definitely help edtech startups to enrich their base further.

Hardware

Despite having the government’s policy to promote Make In India in place, when it comes to semiconductor, chip and overall electronic market, besides bigwigs like Foxconn, Samsung and few more, 90% of the products are directly imported from China.

To boost the semiconductor industry, an amount of over $134.7 Mn (INR 864.22 Cr) has been allotted for the promotion of electronics and IT hardware manufacturing.

The funding shall be utilised for Electronics Development Fund, which will also have investments from daughter funds of $142 Mn (INR 910 Cr). This will help continue the support to the existing 29 incubators as well as to provide financial support to four electropreneur parks.

Over $27.8 Mn (INR 178 Cr) has been allotted to Microprocessor Development Programme, Indian Nanoelectronics User Programme at IIT Mumbai and IISc Bangalore, National Mission Programme on Power Electronics Technology, Centre for Excellence for developing theranostic devices at IIT Guwahati and converged cloud communication network 5G research project for next-generation communication.

How Will It Help The Hardware-Based Startups And Industry?

While the funding is too little, the semiconductor industry, along with the startups in this vertical, needs much more than just funding.

One important policy decision that Arun Jaitley has taken is the increment in the customs duty on mobiles and TVs. This will help encourage the hardware startups as well as other local companies to market their products at fair price.

However, the hardware-based startups need not only funding but also the government’s assurance to solidify the entire chain of demand and supply. For instance, what if next year, the government cuts down the customs duty on semiconductor products?

Speaking of the budget allocation to hardware that is meant to nurture the development of cutting-edge technologies in the country, Dr. Rishi Mohan Bhatnagar, President, Aeris India, Chairperson of The Institution of Engineering and Technology – IoT panel for India commented,

“We welcome the clear thrust on infrastructure that this budget has proposed. Addition of new smart cities and a higher allocation for such projects along with the emphasis on niche technologies and the Digital India drive are also welcome. I was expecting a reduction in tax on hardware from 18 to 5% and a move towards rationalising spectrum license fees for promoting IoT adoption in the country. High capital investment requirement could slow down the IoT adoption momentum in our country and decelerate its evolution as an enabler for various Digital India programs.”

Some Other Schemes

This year, over $10 Bn (INR 65K Cr) will be utilised for the recapitalisation of public sector banks through the issue of government securities (Bonds), enabling these banks to maintain their Tier I CRAR at a comfortable level and to comply with regulatory norms of capital adequacy under Basel III.

On NPAs, Ranjit Punja, CEO & Co-founder, Creditmantri commented, “The government initiating a new plan on NPAs also shows the importance of rising bad loans with India currently ranking 5th in the world. We hope that this plan would help shift focus on the importance of good credit as a countermeasure. By setting the target of disbursing $47 Bn through the MUDRA Yojana for the next fiscal is a commendable step towards inclusive funding.”

$93.5 Mn (INR 600 Cr) has been allotted to equity capital to Micro Units Development & Refinance Agency (MUDRA)

This will help refinance the ability to go up by $654 Mn (INR 4,200 Cr) and aims to increase the single party exposure and to support the development of innovative products.

Commenting on the MUDRA scheme, Manav Jeet, MD and CEO, Rubique stated,

“The MSMEs have been the focus even for Rubique. It’s the most important sector yet underserved segment when it comes to access to finance. Allotment of $47 Bn (INR 3 Lakh crore) for lending in FY19 under PM’s MUDRA Yojana for MSMEs definitely bring cheers to them. Also, the government’s initiative to focus on digitisation and easing the loan sanctioning process will help and encourage the emerging fintechs like us which are taking efforts to digitise the ecosystem with increased acceptance by the ecosystem.”

Union Budget 2018: Policy Announcements Pertaining To Startups

Corporate Tax Reduction

In fulfilment of the promise to reduce the corporate tax rate in a phased manner, Jaitley has proposed to extend the reduced rate of 25% currently available for companies with turnover of less than $7.8 Mn (INR 50 Cr) (in Financial Year 2015-16) to companies reporting turnover of upto $39 Mn (INR 250 Cr) in Financial Year 2016-17.

This would benefit the entire class of MSMEs including startups, which account for almost 99% of companies filing tax returns, he said. The estimated revenue foregone during the financial year 2018-19 will be $1.1 Bn (INR 7,000 Cr). This lower corporate income tax rate would leave such companies with a higher investible surplus, which would create more jobs.

A bit disappointed with the budget, Nagaraju M, CEO, Rentprop4u stated, “The biggest disappointment was the exclusion of angel tax in the budget announcement. In the run-up to budget, the demand for the abolition of angel tax had gotten stronger with industry bodies such as NASSCOM stating that the whopping angel taxation rate of 30% had resulted in a 53%  drop in angel funding during the first half of 2017.”

He further added, “While the government dashed the hopes of the startup ecosystem by not abolishing the angel tax, it has announced plans to set up new measures to strengthen the environment for the growth of venture capital funds and angel investors. Only time will tell us the efficiency of these plans.”

In addition to the abolition of angel tax, startups were hoping that there would be a reduction in TDS and GST rates and a different tax slab for its employees. None of these issues was addressed in the budget.

However, Sashi Reddi (Founder and Managing Director, SRI Capital) is still hopeful, despite receiving only 33% of what he wanted from the budget.

He stated, “I am thrilled that the government continues to make bold and sensible steps. I wanted three things from this budget – Imposition of LTCG tax at 10%, treating non-listed equity on par with listed equity and getting rid of the ‘Angel tax’. One out of three is still pretty good. Mark my words — there will be no big crash in the stock markets. People understand that this was the sensible thing to do!”

Capital Gains

The budget has proposed a tax on Long Term Capital Gains exceeding $1600 (INR 100K) at the rate of 10%, without allowing any indexation benefit. However, all gains up to January 31, 2018 will be grandfathered.

iSPIRT Foundation in its statement averred,

“Slapping a Long-Term Capital Gains Tax on the previously untaxed sale of listed equities will adversely affect the List-in-India initiative. Additionally, the compliance overhang of listing will no longer be tempered by the promise of tax-free gains. The promised tax regime must incentivise and protect foundational (angel and domestic investors) as opposed to fleeting capital.”

Promoting Trade Under IFSC

Jaitley has proposed to provide more concessions for International Financial Services Centre (IFSC), in order to promote trade in stock exchanges located in IFSC. The concessions propose transfer of derivatives and certain securities by non-residents from capital gains tax, and non-corporate taxpayers operating in IFSC to be charged with Alternate Minimum Tax (AMT) at concessional rate of 9% at par with Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) applicable for the corporates.

Promoting E-Assessment

The Finance Minister also announced a proposal to roll out e-assessment services across the country toeliminate person to person contact leading to greater efficiency and transparency in direct tax collection. E-assessment had been introduced on a pilot basis in 2016 and extended to 102 cities in 2017.

Aadhaar Like Unique Identity For Enterprises Too

The Finance Minister has announced plans to launch an Aadhaar-like-system to assign a similar unique identity code to each and every enterprise in India.

Speaking of Aadhaar’s benefits during Budget 2018, Jaitley averred that Aadhaar, which provides an identity to every Indian, has made many public services more accessible to the people. He said, “Services and benefits are being delivered to the people at their doorsteps or in their accounts. It has reduced corruption and cost of delivery and has eliminated middlemen in the process.”

The Finance Minister pointed out that every enterprise, big or small, also needs a unique ID. He said that the government will launch a scheme to assign every individual enterprise in India a unique ID.

Interestingly, Aadhaar is the Oxford’s first Hindi word of the year.

Welcoming the move, Sanjay Swamy, Managing Partner, Prime Venture Partners commented,

“Unique identity is the foundation for any aspect of digitisation – as it helps credit and other service providers to make a decision based on trust easily. Aadhaar has proven the value for individuals already – and it’s great to see the government a similar infrastructure for business entities too!”

Promoting Cashless Transaction

In order to promote cashless payment further, payments exceeding $156 (INR 10,000) in cash made by trusts and institutions to be disallowed and would be subject to tax, said the FM.

The growth of direct taxes in the financial year 2016-17 was 12.6%, and for financial year 2017-18 (up to January 15, 2018) is 18.7%. Jaitley said that the buoyancy in personal income tax for financial year 2016-17 and 2017-18 (RE) are 1.95 and 2.11 respectively.

Therefore, this indicates that additional revenue collected in the last two financial years from personal income tax compared to the average buoyancy for the pre 2016-17 period, amounts to a total of $14 Bn (INR 90,000 Cr), which is a result of a strong anti-evasion measures by the government.

Harshil Mathur, CEO and co-founder, Razorpay said, “With the proposal to set up five lakh WiFi hotspots and the allocation of $1.56 Bn (INR 10,000 Cr) for telecom infrastructure, it will further the internet penetration for rural India and bring broadband to five crore rural citizens.”

But to help the endeavour of digital inclusion for rural economy realise its full potential, it will be crucial for the government to create awareness about adoption of digital payments and expose various cash users in the rural India to the ease of use of digital payments, according to him.

He further added, “Another point to note is that the cash-to-GDP ratio is rising again, the government needs to take measures to avoid that. Mere incentives would not suffice to give the much needed push for digital economy in India. We expected the Budget to address that as well.”

Ease Of Doing Business

To carry the business reforms for ease of doing business deeper and into every state of India, Jaitley informed the parliament that the Government of India has identified 372 specific business reform actions. All states have taken up these reforms and simplifications in a mission mode constructively competing with each other. Evaluation of performance under this programme will now be based on user feedback.

India’s premier IT-BPM and startup-enabling trade association NASSCOM has welcomed the budget, “The Budget presented today reflects the Government’s commitment to digitalization as a key force for India’s development strategy. The focus on “ease of living”, will inevitably entail and spur greater use and deployment of technology across all verticals.”

What’s In It For Bitcoin Traders?

In line with the previous moves, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, while presenting the Union Budget 2018 today said that while the Indian government favours blockchain. It, however, will do every bit to stop Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies trading in India in financing illegitimate activities.

Jaitley stated, “The Indian government will take all measures to eliminate the use of crypto-assets in financing illegitimate activities. The government will also explore the use of blockchain technology for ushering in the digital economy.”

Interestingly, Jaitley used the word ‘crypto-assets’ instead of ‘virtual currency’ which has been used by the RBI and the Indian government so far in their statements.

Ashwarya Pratap Singh, CEO and co-founder, Drivezy states, “We welcome the  Government’s stance on the illicit use of cryptocurrencies. Undeniably the government’s stance is not against cryptocurrencies but their misuse. The Finance Minister has developed a visionary and balanced budget that manages both fiscal prudence and the required investment focus to propel India to the forefront of innovations.”

Rahul Raj, co-founder of Koinex commented, “Jaitley’s statement essentially leans more towards the need for having robust regulations and framework to curb malpractices in the market and we are happy to support the government to help them in this endeavour. The government has also laid impetus on use of blockchain and we will soon witness a technology revolution. We are delighted to be part of this digital transformation and hope to lead the blockchain technology in India for the world to emulate.”

Union Budget 2018: In Conclusion

Ignored for a long-long time, by increasing the healthcare spending from existing 1.2% of GDP to 2.5%, the finance minister has clearly brought the healthcare sector to near centre stage.

Here, it is worth noting that the budget has just been introduced in the parliament, and Jaitley has already indicated that there might be further changes once the discussion will start in Parliament next week.

Although many industrialists have appreciated the Jaitley’s announcements and initiatives regarding science and technology, Biocon CMD Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, tweeted,

“The devil is in the detail! At 0.8%of GDP, investment in science is still way below our economic capacity n more importantly, enabling economic growth.”

Besides a moderate increase of 3.8% increase in the education sector, the FM has proposed a whopping $223 Bn (INR14.34 lakh crore) allocation towards rural infrastructure and livelihood. The funding aims to build mover 300K kms of rural roads, 5.1 Mn new rural houses, 18.8 Mn toilets and provide 17.5 Mn new household electricity connections.

This will also help shift the startup momentum from urban areas to rural areas, a boosting morale for agritech, healthcare and logistics startups.

While Jaitley has cornered the startups’ despondency over angel tax issues, GST forms which a startup has to fill 37 times a year, GST slabs (while many of the startups solutions have not even classifies yet), Tax collected at Source (TCS) and many more, it appears that some measures have been taken to ensure the startup momentum.

Author

Suprita Anupam

Inc42 Staff

An Electronics Engineer turned Business Journalist | Blogger | Avid Reader. Previously associated with Network18, Mudra Communications and Clean India Journal, he has been writing on a variety of issues that include cryptocurrency, policy-related matters, blockchain, investments-destination, technology and other startup related matters.

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