Monday, July 6, 2009

Union budget 2009: Nothing much to speak about on tech front, barring UIDAI!

The Union Budget 2009, detailed today by Honourable Pranab Mukherjee, Minister of Finance, Government of India, really has nothing much to speak about for the Indian technology sector, or what many would like to call as the Indian IT industry, barring the setting up of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

Some of the budget highlights include:
* Customs duty of 5 percent to be imposed on set-top boxes for TV broadcasting.
* Customs duty on LCD panels for manufacture of LCD TVs to be reduced from 10 percent to 5 percent.
* Full exemption from 4 percent special CVD on parts for manufacture of mobile phones and accessories to be reintroduced for one year.

None of these proposals will significantly boost manufacturing in the country. There is also a great need to boost home-grown companies!

Among the good points, the minister said that he will urge his colleagues in Central and State Governments to remove policy, regulatory and institutional bottlenecks for speedy implementation of infrastructure projects. The infrastructure projects include telecommunications, power generation, etc. This is some good news!

The IT industry has pointed out that it is facing difficulties in the assessment of software which involves transfer of the right to use after the levy of service tax on IT software service. To resolve the matter, the minister has proposed to exempt the value attributable to the transfer of the right to use packaged software from excise duty and CVD. Perhaps, this is some good news as well.

The minister also noted that the setting up of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a major step in improving governance with regard to delivery of public services. The first set of unique identity numbers will be rolled out in 12 to 18 months. Rs. 120 crore has been provided for this project. This is also good news.

One other point to note is the feduction in respect of export profits available under sections 10A and 10B of the Income-tax Act. The deduction under these sections would not be available beyond the financial year 2009-2010. To tide over the slowdown in exports, the minister has proposed to extend the sun-set clauses for these tax holidays by one more year, i.e., for the financial year 2010-11.

Semicon, solar seem neglected this time!
The budget has missed out in helping develop the semiconductor and solar/PV industries. These sectors require the full backing of the government. Even local telecom manufacturing seems to have been bypassed. Nor is there any mention of how foreign direct investment (FDI), can be enhanced in these critical sectors.

Especially, solar photovoltaics holds a lot of promise. A couple of months ago, SEMI India, in its paper on solar PV in India, had highlighted the need for more action from the government of India, a more closer industry-government collaboration, as well as the need for financial institutions to pay more attention to the solar/PV segment in India.

I also didn't see any proposal in the budget that would help strengthen India's semiconductor ecosystem. How can India become an even more attractive destination for foreign investors? There are companies, especially some Indian technocrats, who would probably like to return to India and set up semiconductor product companies. Would the VC community finance semicon start-ups? What would excite these folks?

Recently, BV Naidu, chairman, India Semiconductor Association, (ISA), mentioned in a discussion, that it would be appropriate if the Government of India could provide seed and start-up capital for new ventures and set up a focused venture fund of about Rs 200 crores.

According to him, the technology development board could administer these funds and the fund may provide up to 80 percent of the approved project cost with equity balance being brought in by entrepreneur. The Government can also subsidize the acquisition of EDA tools by start-ups and other SMEs in this sector.

None of these points have been addressed in today's union budget!

Someone recently questioned me whether India will ever have a fab. Frankly, I don't know! Having a good, strong local semiconductor industry does require a huge support from the government.

This could've been a much more braver and bolder budget. Perhaps, future budgets will address points given a miss in this edition.

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