Letter from New Delhi
With a clear focus on farmers, the rural poor and senior citizens, India’s 2018 Budget (presented on 1 February) makes a fresh approach to improve their lot.
Farmers showed their ire before the recent Gujarat elections that reduced the majority of the ruling party, BJP. Now with elections coming up in four states and the general elections scheduled next year, this budget directs government support for the farmers, the rural poor and senior citizens.
Farmers are slated to reap major benefits with Minimum Support Price of all crops increased to at least 1.5 times of the production cost. Plus, a slew of new schemes have been introduced for almost every sub-sector of this activity. The government announced an agricultural market fund with corpus of Rs 20,000 million. The Government proposes to launch Operation Green with Rs 5,000 million.
Health for the poor with the world’s largest government-funded healthcare programme, with approximately 500 million beneficiaries. A cover of Rs half a million per family for 100 million people was unveiled.
Another 150,000 health centres will be set up to provide health facilities closer home. Twenty-four new medical colleges cum hospitals to be built in different states. TB patients will get Rs 500 per month for eating healthy food. Plenty more launched for the rural poor including better schools, roads, solar power, telecom connectivity for village councils and so on.
No change in personal Income Tax brackets but a standard deduction of Rs 40,000 introduced for salaried workers. For senior citizens, exemption of interest income on bank deposits raised to Rs 50,000. Senior citizens also allowed Rs 50,000 deduction on health insurance premium paid in a year from earlier Rs 30,000.
The biggest tax bonanza goes to Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises with turnover of less than Rs 2,500 million as their corporate tax declined from 30 to 25 per cent. Long-term capital gains exceeding Rs 100,000 to be taxed at 10 per cent
A new scheme to be introduced for providing electronic assessment to eliminate person-to-person contact.
The direct taxes collected increased by 12.6 per cent due to strict measures for tracing black money and tax avoidance. The number of taxpayers also went up: 85.51 lakh people filed returns in 2017-18, as against 66.26 lakh in 2016-17.
Imported mobiles and TVs will become more expensive by five per cent with higher duties to encourage local manufacturing.
At the macro level, India is now a US$2.5 trillion economy and firmly on path to achieve growth rate of 7.2 to 7.5 per cent up from 6.75 per cent for the current year. Other indicators also showed the economy in the pink of health.
This gave rise to speculation that the government may announce general elections this year rather than wait for its full term to end during the next year. But this rumour has been denied by the government. However, the focus of the budget on the farmers and the rural poor points to a budget for the ballot.
Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi
* Published in print edition on 9 February 2018