By Abhimanyu S.
Today marked a significant milestone on Atmanirbhar Bharat’s journey to true development. With Amrit Kaal transforming into Kartavya Kaal, India’s Finance Minister (FM), Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, presented the Interim Budget for FY 2024–25 in the Lok Sabha. Her sixth budget in office, the FM adhered to the customary practice of interim budgets in election years, reserving the comprehensive budget for post the formation of a new government.
Yet, within the confines of this interim presentation, Ms. Sitharaman illuminated the path ahead, offering key highlights, insight, and guiding principles that foreshadow the nation’s trajectory. Noteworthy among these revelations are significant takeaways with far-reaching implications for mobility, energy transition, the future of work, gender inclusion, accessibility, and technological advancement. Let us delve into these highlights without further ado:
Ease of Moving
The FM emphasised on Gati Shakti and announced that the Government will focus on transit systems like metro rail and Namo Bharat. This shows intent to continue fostering sustainable and inclusive mobility solutions. The FM also announced that 40,000 Indian railways train coaches will be converted to Vande Bharat coaches, centering safety, convenience and comfort for passengers.
While this is overall good news for passenger mobility, we feel there may be scope to focus on and invest in accessibility for people with disabilities.
The interim budget also announced a framework for rating tourism centres based on quality of facilities and services. This is encouraging from mobility and economic development aspects.
However, we strongly advocate for gender safety, gender and disability inclusive infrastructure, and universal accessibility to be key parameters in this framework.
Energy transition and EV-Ready India
The interim budget showed that this Government will keep backing electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy shifts as it has for the past few years. A prime example is continuation of FAME with a budget allocation of Rs. 2,671 crore to accelerate the adoption of EVs across India. OMI Foundation also welcomes the allocation of funds for the production linked incentive (PLI) Scheme for automobiles and auto components with Rs. 3,500 crore for 2024–25. Similarly, the interim budget encouraged adoption of electric buses (E-buses) by establishing payment security mechanisms. Here, it should be noted that as part of the PM E-Bus Sewa Scheme, 50,000 new electric buses are to be augmented by 2027.
While still on vehicles, the FM announced that phased mandatory blending of compressed biogas (CBG) in compressed natural gas (CNG) for transport for domestic purposes will be mandated.
We feel these initiatives will open up a huge opportunity for Skill India as workers will have to be trained and up-skilled for new jobs across the EV value chain, as well as support systems like mechanical services and production units.
The FM announced that the Lakhpati Didi initiative focusing on women-led self help group participants will have a target of creating 3 crore women lakhpatis. Secondly, the Ayushman Bharat Scheme will now be extended to all ASHAs and anganwadi workers.
We see these as extremely important steps especially as they can become a national template to extend social protection to workforce falling outside the traditional employer-employee definition — such as the gig and platform workers.
The FM also mentioned that 43% of students enrolled in STEM courses in India are women and girls, one of the highest in the world.
This is monumental — not just from a gender inclusion point of view, but also from an energy transition and tech as it will mean potentially higher participation of women in India’s EV value chain, tech and AI spaces.
Future of Work and Social Protection
Speaking of social protection and equitable livelihoods, the interim budget made allocations of 326 Crores to the PM SVAnidhi Scheme to provide credit linkage to the street food vendors, who are also being supported by the food delivery platforms; Rs. 4,824 to the PM Vishwakarma Yojana to provide end-to-end support to artisans and craftspeople across 18 skills and; Rs. 538 crore to the Capacity Building and Skill Development Scheme, which has trained 1.4 crore youth, upskilled and re-skilled 54 lakh youth, and established 3000 new ITIs since its inception.
We feel that with the topic of safeguarding worker interests and providing social security to all regardless of the nature of work or sector they work in becoming undeniable, these are initiatives that can empower and propel India’s workforce significantly over the next half a decade
AI and Tech
The FM cited PM Modi’s mantra of Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan, Jai Anusandhan as an example of the Government’s emphasis on innovation and announced a corpus of ₹1 lakh crore for long-term, interest-free loans to boost innovation.
We feel that in an age where AI, machine learning, self driving cars and citizen space exploration are no longer fantastic buzzwords but viable career options for today’s youth, this emphasis on tech and innovation is not only the need of the hour, but holds the potential to open doors to all areas of social and economic progress that India is determined to pursue in its future — leading up to a vision 2047 for a Viksit Bharat.