Leading Mumbai-headquartered law firm Economic Laws Practice (ELP) has created a detailed analysis of the annual union budget presented by the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1, examining the provisions in detail, highlight the nuances and de-mystify the small print.
Extracts from the Preface by Suhail Nathani, Managing Partner, ELP:
This was the third Union Budget within the last twelve months (technically the first was a ‘vote on account’ as India was headed into a general election and hence there was less flexibility available to the Government of the day). Leaving aside these technicalities, in a period of slow growth (GDP growth rate for 2019-20 estimated at 5% against 6.8% in FY19), sluggish investment, sharp deceleration in consumer demand and declining tax revenues, did the third budget do enough to galvanize the economy?
First, unstated in so many words, this is a budget for India’s defence and security – with INR 3,370,000 million allotted to defence procurement and INR 1,050,000 million to the home ministry.
Beyond this, almost every cause finds a mention and some money allocated to it – agriculture, roads, environment, airport infrastructure are now recurring themes. The government has stated that it seeks to double farmer income by 2022 and expects the number of aircrafts in India to double from 600 to 1200 which will require several more airports. In many ways, the above goals seem on-brand for an economy of contradictions like India.
With an objective of putting more money in the hands of the taxpayer, income-tax for individuals has been reduced and rationalized. At the lowest level, income tax is 15%, assuming the assessee does not claim any deductions. This is most welcome, to the extent that it will reduce complexity. However, it remains to be seen whether it effectively translates into more disposable income and a commensurate increase in consumption and spending. Abolishing dividend distribution tax was also a welcome step.
On the other hand, the budget has not done much to address concerns of the depressed automobile, real estate and manufacturing sectors – sectors which are crucial to boosting employment concerns.
The budget also featured a recognition of wealth creators, who have the ‘respect’ of the Government and assurances to reduce the aggression of the tax collector. Truth be told, this is a long-standing assurance that has often faced roadblocks in the form of various pending litigations. This time, the assurance comes coupled with a direct tax litigation settlement scheme, where, if the dispute is settled by March 2020, the interest and penalty will be waived. Steps are also underway to de-criminalize offences under the Companies Act 2013.
Customs duty on several items have increased to enable Indian domestic manufacturers to compete – very much in line with the tariff route that has gained in popularity the world over. Ironically, however, the move may prove to be counter-productive to the domestic industry for downstream products.
With the Corona virus rampaging in China and estimates of a consequent impact on Chinese GDP, is this budget bold enough to position India to fill the global void? On the face of it, perhaps not – but the extra money in the hands of the aspiring consumer could revive consumption and drive local industrial activity. Moreover, has the government made in-roads in responding to corporate India’s woes, given its own set of fiscal limitations? The answer can, perhaps, be a cautious yes.
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