Once again, it’s that time of year when New Year optimism gives way to more grounded financial predictions. What makes this year's Union Budget different from previous years, is that it will be the first-ever digital Budget speech, and perhaps more significantly, the first one post the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Budget for the next fiscal starting April 2021 that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present on February 1 will be the starting point for picking up the pieces after the economic destruction brought on by the pandemic.
With expectations sky-high, here’s what the women entrepreneurs and leaders across sectors expect from the Union Budget 2021.
Create a talent pipeline- Neha Bagaria, Founder, Jobsforher
We expect Budget 2021-22 to ensure that we are able to create the talent pipeline required to service business needs in this new post-COVID world, which has become increasingly digitised. As the jobs of the future become increasingly tech-based, we need to ensure women are also equal participants. The Budget should accommodate skilling programmes for women to upskill themselves in the latest technologies, which will further help them contribute to the country’s GDP. Also, the pandemic has seen a huge increase in flexible and contract workers, who will need inclusive policies, perks, and benefits so that we can benefit from the wide talent of women who are seeking flexibility with arrangements.
Reduce the compliance burden - Roma Priya, Founder of Burgeon Law
The Budget should look at reducing the compliance burden on startups to allow ease and simplification of operations. Indian startups are now competing globally, and need to be flexible. The rigorous filings and scrutinies of cross-border transactions can be eliminated by introducing certain reporting standards.
Offshore investment plays a big role in the empowerment of India's startup ecosystem, and there has to be a push to increase the inflow of foreign investments. The Budget should aim at bringing uniformity to the policies that allow for an easy flow of capital and an increase in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). As the investment sector recovers, we can also expect a rise in employment levels across India.
The relaxation of the tax rules surrounding startup valuations and funding can be very helpful for a lot of sectors. The Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) who have been badly hit by the pandemic could use a year of tax-holidays and reduced interest rates to recover. The government should consider simplifying the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to further boost the local manufacturing units and export sector.
There is also a requirement for ESOPs not to be taxed unless they are used, which means that the employees would not be obligated to pay taxes without getting direct cash inflows. This has been an issue with the ESOPs of unlisted companies as their shares do not have an available market for resale.
Ramp up medical infrastructure- Meena Ganesh, MD & CEO, Portea Medical
This is the time to look back at the weak links of our healthcare ecosystem as exposed by the pandemic and take steps to cover the gaps in infrastructure, facilities, and financial provisions in the upcoming Budget. The major challenge that needs to be addressed through infrastructure is the rural-urban divide in healthcare. Despite about 75 percent of the Indian population residing in rural areas, the healthcare concentration is heavily skewed in the urban areas. The absence of hospitals and qualified doctors in the rural areas results in patients from all over the country travelling to major cities and incurring a lot of additional expenses as well as loss of wages for the patients’ attendants. This is where the delivery of health services in the rural areas through e-health/e-medicine and other such technology-driven means is going to play a transformational role.
To make this happen, the government must ramp up the medical as well as training infrastructure in a big way. The best and fastest way to ensure quality healthcare access in rural India is through e-health/e-medicine services. Funds must be allocated towards skill development of teachers, nurses, paramedical staff, and caregivers. Further, by making budget allocations for development of telemedicine and home-based healthcare ecosystems in the country, it is possible to best harness the available resources to cover the whole country. This can be done through a public-private partnership in a speedier and more effective manner. Through development of an alternate on-demand home healthcare system, we can reduce the burden on institutional healthcare. Investing in out-of-home healthcare is less cost-intensive than building and maintaining new hospitals, and the system can leverage available resources to cover a much larger number of patients and healthcare seekers.
Be consumption friendly- Dipali Mathur Dayal, Co-Founder and CEO of Super Smelly
There are some basic expectations from the upcoming Union Budget for 2021, especially in these pandemic-stricken times. The year 2020 was tough and a good, strong Budget will come as a relief. We hope it is consumption-friendly, leaving more money in the hands of people to catalyse demand in the economy. Moreover, for startups, we look forward to the simplification of GST and tax relaxation in ESOPs.
MSMEs and startups would need government support to revive businesses and to continue to generate employment; therefore, easy and cheaper access to the credit would certainly bring relief.
The personal care sector, in particular, needs steady budgetary support. There is a nationwide movement to transcend from large-scale toxin-based products from international brands to natural, homegrown, and toxin-free brands. It is important to emphasise the importance of ‘Make In India’ and be ‘Vocal forocal’ to strengthen the country’s economy.
Build responsible digital infrastructure- Roopa Kudva, Managing Director at Omidyar Network India
We hope to see the upcoming Budget prioritise building robust and responsible digital infrastructure, especially in sectors like health and education, where physical systems have been under a lot of pressure during the pandemic. We have seen commendable efforts to create Open Digital Ecosystems (ODEs) in these sectors, through the National Digital Health Mission, and the DIKSHA platform.
ODEs can improve service delivery by enabling transparency, interoperability, and spurring innovation. Similar to how UPI brought about a paradigm shift in the way financial services are delivered and facilitated financial inclusion, digital ecosystems for health and education can ensure that every Indian has access to affordable and quality healthcare and education opportunities.
Using the ODE approach, the government can further strengthen digital benefit transfer mechanisms, as many more households are relying on these social safety nets in the wake of the economic shock caused by the pandemic. In particular, the Budget should ensure that funding is allocated to not only build technology infrastructure, but also critical non-tech layers of these ODEs, such as putting in place accountable institutions with the right capacity, governance frameworks to safeguard citizens’ rights, and community engagement.
Revive the economy- Sonam Shah, Founder and CEO, Treize Communications
Budget 2021 will be the first Budget in a post-pandemic economy, so a lot of expectations are set, especially by business owners and entrepreneurs who have been facing a lot of challenges in running their companies. Our Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman has promised a "never before" Union Budget and I have expectations that it will live up to that. The upcoming Budget should focus more on reviving the country's economy and bringing in relief for SMEs, MSMEs, and entrepreneurial business models. It is imperative to understand that small businesses across India hold great importance in reviving the country’s economy at a fast rate and creating job opportunities, so a continuous support from the government is always welcome to grow this sector.
I would love to see this Budget favouring women in businesses. A lot of women have started small businesses during the lockdown to support the family, and there should be a proper way to help them set up a business model and guide them in financial matters. Educating them on matters related to tax and helping them ease the process will help. There should be tax benefits for women entrepreneurs as well as incentives for women-led businesses that are paying timely taxes. The government should also offer incentives for homegrown businesses that are paying tax on time. Easing the taxpayer's load will be a welcome and supportive change.
The tax procedures need to be made simpler and easy to understand as there are many challenges cropping up for independent small businesses across India. While digitisation is important, we, in India, have a lot of businesses that are run by individuals who cannot easily adapt to the new ways of digital working. There is an overburden in compliance, which increases overhead costs for any business. There should be a substitute method for this too.
Also, with payments and cash flow being affected badly this year, strict norms and policies for late and default payments should be set up and implemented. This increases workflow capital, which is needed to keep business running.
Create incentives to make wellness mandatory -Shilpa Ambre, CFO, SARVA
Wellness has always been an integral part of the Indian culture. Be it yoga, pranayama, Ayurveda or the modern day workout forms, taking care of the body from inside out has always been important. The last 10 months have not just brought this to everyone's notice, but also empowered individuals to take more control of their health, with equal impetus being given by the Government of India.
Today the GST we are paying is as high as 18 percent but in the upcoming budget, we hope that this is corrected, given the increasing importance of wellness being a lifestyle as opposed to vanity metric.
In the last 9-10 months alone, we’ve seen so many new ventures in the space of wellness and to boost these new ventures, a Tax Holiday by the Government could be a good move.
With respect to companies – specifically in the health and wellness space – I do expect the Government of India to introduce more incentives that encourage employers and employees to naturally gravitate towards making wellness mandatory at the workplace. This can be done through tax exemptions when an individual invests in his/her health or some sort of rebates for corporates who make conscious choices for the health and wellness of their employees.
(Edited by Diya Koshy George)