#Budget2023: Big focus on digitalization, medical skilling, R&D & agri-startups

Here we analyze the budget 2023 speech by the union finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman

New Delhi: The cat is out of the bag! While there are no major big-ticket announcements in the Budget 2023 for overall bioscience sector, there still are a few key takeaways. The industry leaders from biotech/pharma, medtech, agritech and other macro and micro segments who were looking for tax rebates might not be amused today but are appreciating the initiatives that have been announced by the Union Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman.
Particularly in the healthcare and pharma segments, government has emphasized on the need for increased R&D in pharma, enhanced facilities of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) labs, and new nursing colleges.
The facilities of ICMR will be made available for private R&D teams to encourage collaborative work. A new programme will also be unveiled to promote research and innovation in pharma through centres of excellence. The new nursing colleges will be established in co-location with existing 157 medical colleges established since 2014.
In her speech, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman listed out seven priorities such as inclusive development, reaching the last mile, infrastructure investment, unleashing potential, green growth, youth power, and financial sector.
In the agriculture sector, government will set up an agriculture accelerator fund to encourage startups in rural areas. The Indian Institute of Millet Research will be supported as a centre of excellence. The agriculture credit target set at Rs 20 lakh crore in FY24. The government will launch a sub-scheme under PM Matsya Sampada Yojana with an outlay of Rs 6,000 crore to further enable those involved in fisheries.
In the energy security segment, Rs 35,000 crore have been allocated for priority capital investment towards energy transition and net zero objectives and energy security. The 200 compressed biogas plants, including 75 in the urban areas and 300 community-based plants to be set up with investment of Rs 10,000 crore.
Nirmala Sitharaman announced that 500 new ‘waste to wealth’ plants under GOBARdhan (Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan) scheme will be established for promoting circular economy. These will include 200 compressed biogas (CBG) plants, including 75 plants in urban areas, and 300 community or cluster-based plants at total investment of Rs 10,000 crore. She said, in due course, a 5 percent CBG mandate will be introduced for all organizations marketing natural and biogas and for collection of biomass and distribution of bio-manure, appropriate fiscal support will be provided.
In terms of building digital infrastructure for the healthcare and agriculture sectors, the government will be setting up 100 labs for developing apps using 5G services in engineering institutions. To realize new range of opportunities and employment potential, labs will cover Precision Farming, Intelligent Transports Systems and Healthcare.
Mixed reactions from the industry
“Support to R&D in the pharma sector is a welcome decision. It will help India become a leader in pharma innovation on the global stage,” says Ashwin Sapra, Partner & Head-Healthcare, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas.
“The newly announced focus on screening and eradicating sickle cell anaemia in the country is a step in the right direction. Anaemias and other haematological disorders are endemic in tribal populations of the country. Use of advanced digital technologies can help vastly increase the scale of screening than what is possible today,” said Dr. Tathagato Rai Dastidar, Founder & CEO, SigTuple.
In his comments, Sanjay Vyas, Executive Vice President, India Country Head, Parexel, said, “The Union Budget 2023’s focus on research and development directed towards innovation to support investment by the industry is a welcome move. As the pharmacy to the world, the push towards innovation and research will further our goal to deliver quality care to all. Increasing the number of labs at ICMR facilities through public-private partnerships is encouraging to ensure a holistic research environment in India.”
“Additionally, the government’s attention to the vision of ‘Make AI in India’ and ‘Make AI Work for India’ and the setting up of three Centers of Excellence for Artificial Intelligence in top educational institutions, a push towards Unified Skill India Digital platform will aid in increasing industry-academia collaboration. The allocation in Union Budget 2023-24 allows the industry to collaborate in conducting interdisciplinary research, and develop innovative applications and scalable problem solutions in the areas of health. Thus, the announcement holds the potential to increase focus on research for new chemical entities, and drugs for rare diseases in India,” added Mr. Vyas.
“The Budget is growth-oriented. The Government expenditure on capital has gone up significantly however fiscal deficit targets are in line with expectations. The lifesciences and medical sector will stand to benefit greatly with the impetus on innovation and R&D. The PRIP announcement in the budget speech is a step in the right direction. The move to open select ICMR labs for research programmes by public and private companies will help in strengthening the R&D ecosystem in the country. Setting up of Centres of Excellence for innovation and the Government’s initiatives to encourage investments in R&D will go a long way in bringing Indian Innovation to the forefront. The medical devices sector will also stand to gain from the new multidisciplinary courses which will be introduced as they will bring in skilled talent and enable high-technology and promote research and manufacturing of these technologies in India, said Pankaj R. Patel, Chairman, Zydus Lifesciences.
“The Government’s announcement on eliminating Sickle Cell Anaemia by 2047 is also a much needed step. This disease is prevalent in several parts of India and almost 70% of the children under the age of 5 years get afflicted by the disease. At Zydus Hospitals Dahod we have set up a dedicated centre to help patients suffering from Sickle Cell Anaemia. We need to address this health concern on a war footing,” added Mr. Patel.
Pavan Choudary, Chairman, MTaI, said, “The 2023-24 Union budget has taken some crucial initiatives to increase the CAPEX outlay by 10 Lakh crore, which makes it 3.3% of the country’s GDP. We hope that the benefit is also received by the healthcare sector which is in need of a big uplift in its infrastructure, especially in Tier 2 & 3 cities”.
“It is also reassuring that the government is working on reducing the current gaps in availability of skilled healthcare workers. The FM’s announcement on dedicated multidisciplinary courses for medical devices would ensure availability of skilled manpower who can engage fluently with rapidly innovating medical technologies. To supplement this move, we also hope that research institutes and training centres will continue to get access to latest medical technology, unhampered by restrictions in Public procurement norms,” added Mr. Choudhary.
“It is a relief to see the government’s intent to screen and eliminate a condition like sickle cell anemia. We hope that just like the ‘Anemia Mukt Bharat’ initiative, this program also gets the required impetus from the central government. Along with establishment of nursing colleges, a provision for para medical workers and ancillary workers should also be considered.  The focus on collaboration with private sector on R&D and innovations is a great move and hope it marks a new beginning for healthcare and pharma innovations in India,” said Anand. K, CEO, SRL Diagnostics.
“It would have been great if the union budget also focused on funding to strengthen India’s health infrastructure system and R&D capacity,” added Mr. Anand.
Sharing his comments, Vasu Naren, Managing Director & CEO, Sona Machinery, said: “With the agri budget being increased by 20 lakh crore, it calls for a massively positive step for the growth of the sector. Additionally, the Agri Accelerator Fund is a good step, it will help enable businesses to navigate government regulations and connect all stakeholders in the farm supply chain and network. This will be a game changer in terms of enhancing the agri value chain.”
“Additionally, the focus on Amrit Kal which lies in a tech-enabled economy will only aid in the development of advanced machinery and infrastructure in all fields. Moreover, the focus on digital agri-infrastructure development will also aid in the development of a global workforce that will accelerate the agricultural economy and make it stand at par with global agri-infrastructure,” Vasu added,

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