New Delhi: Finance minister Arun Jaitley in his budget speech on Thursday proposed a slew of measures to hasten India’s movement to a digital economy. Among them is use of blockchain technology to encourage digital payments and curb the use of cryptocurrencies, setting up of a national programme to encourage artificial intelligence for development and providing easy internet access to villages.
The government is opposed to cryptocurrencies given that they can be a channel for money laundering and terrorist financing. It plans to use blockchain technology to curb its use. “Government does not consider cryptocurrency as legal; we will take all measures against its illegal use," said Jaitley during the speech.
According to Jaitley, the move will also give a fillip to digital payments as the blockchain technology will ensure greater security.
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Currently, the use of cryptocurrencies is a violation of foreign-exchange rules. Nevertheless, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has a group studying whether digital currencies backed by global central banks can be used as legal tender.
The government has been pushing for a shift to a less-cash economy, especially after the cancellation of legal tender of high-value notes on 8 November 2016.
While announcing the budget, Jaitley said that the completion of Phase 1 of Bharat Net is a big step in digital India’s journey and it will now scale it up by providing 500,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in rural areas to provide easy internet access to 50 million Indians. For this, the government has allocated Rs10,000 crore under telecom infrastructure.
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As many as 250,000 villages got optical fibre connectivity under Bharat Net program, wherein 100,000 gram panchayats have been connected with high-speed optic fibre network in the first phase of BharatNet, said Jaitley. The government will work towards connecting another 150,000 villages under Bharat Net initiative.
Bharat Net project is being implemented by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to create network infrastructure for providing 100 Mbps broadband to all gram panchayats (approximately 250,000) in the country in a phased manner by the end of 2018. The Union budget 2017-18 allocated Rs10,000 crore towards Bharat Net to expedite the project.
“NITI Aayog will establish a national programme to direct our efforts in the area of artificial intelligence towards national development," added Jaitley.