Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Monday presented the Budget for 2016-17, paving the way for simplification of tax laws and giving options to put to an end to disputes. At the same time, there is some relief in the form of presumptive taxation regime for small business houses. Jaitley discusses the contours of his Budget in a media interaction. Excerpts:
Experts say that you have focused only on agriculture and ignored other sectors. Do you believe this?
This Budget gives the reality of India. The reality of India is that there is a serious challenges as far as agrarian sector is concerned. And, therefore, you have to address agriculture and rural infrastructure. At the same time, you have to address physical infrastructure and social sector commitments. This Budget is a combination of several things. Now, where do you put infrastructure spending, which is at record high? In addition to priority to agriculture and to rural sector, I am putting in place targeting of subsidies, through a legislation which I would introduce immediately. Also, how would you call a reform in the transport sector? Moreover, there are steps for resolution of disputes, banking distress, gas exploration, selecting universities to make them globally competitive, setting of infrastructure disputes. I think this is largest ever simplification of tax laws. This Budget addresses the sectors that needs to be addressed and obviously rural India is the sector that needs to be addressed most.
Would you elaborate on the legislation that you propose to bring in immediately?
Since this legislation would soon be introduced, Parliament has the first right to know about it. What I can mention is that it keeps away the issues that arose in the context of the Aadhaar earlier. And the principal purpose of this legislation is that funds are spent either from the Centre or states’ kitty, so you can make Aadhaar mandatory and ensure that the right person gets the benefit and the same person do not get the benefit twice.
Are you confident of achieving fiscal deficit of 3.5% of GDP?
There were three different opinions. One was to strictly adhere to 3.5%, there was another who said stick to 3.5% but spend more and it doesn’t matter if it is marginally altered. There are circumstances globally which keeps on changing. We would stick to 3.5% and it is imminently achievable.
How do you see the fiscal consolidation scenario?
As far as the fiscal consolidation agenda or PSBs are concerned, the government has already said that it would bring down its equity. In the longer run, it will bring it down to 52%. The immediate agenda is to strengthen the banks. What I have announced is not the last word on re-capitalisation, and therefore, be prepared that there would be something more. There would be some amount carry forwards from the current year.
What do you have to offer for salaried and small business income holders?
The salaried class has a simple tax regime. Now, we are bringing business houses with a turnover of Rs 2 crore to that level.
Do you mean by way of presumptive tax regime?
The presumptive tax methodology has given relief to small tax payers, as well as professionals. For all businesses, below R2 crore turnover, there is a presumptive income of 8%. If you want to pay less, then maintain your books. But if you are happy with 8%, or simply put, on a income of R1 crore, you pay tax for R8 lakhs and even bring it further down by claiming deductions. This would cover lakhs and lakhs of people. For professionals, there are disclosure issues, but for a trader or a workshop owner, he pays for the materials supplied. The professionals’ presumption should be lesser. By presumptive income, this is a large body of middle class tax payers, who gets an advantage.
The Budget gave more benefits to small tax payers. Why is it so?
There are five-six aspects of taxation. First the small tax payers: he gets two reliefs — for less than R5 lakh income, he gets another R3,000 deduction benefit. For those who stay in rented houses, the limit has been increased to get the advantage up to R60,000 deduction. A lot of people talk about exemption benefits. But, even an individual in the 30% tax bracket gets the exemptions. The idea is to keep the small income holders in the tax net and give him an advantage, which the wealthy doesn’t get it.
Are you making a ground for GST rollout?
Whatever tax decision we are taking, all of them are making the environment towards the GST. Suddenly, we hike service tax to a standardised rate overnight. But this is not possible. These are small steps.
But, you have introduced new cess, while GST is a one-rate regime?
The finance minister has a tough job. He needs to spend and at the same time, needs to maintain 3.5% (fiscal deficit). Once the GST is rolled out, the cess would cease. But till it doesn’t come, resource mobilisation is necessary, if one has to spend more. Then service tax has gradually has to converge to GST. Now, you are almost there.
You did not bring down the corporate tax rate as it was envisaged. Why?
I had the credibility issue that I have to start corporate tax reduction this year. But, if I withdraw the exemptions retrospectively, I am allowing the sunset to exit. So, I am not getting any benefit this year. Now, I have said that any manufacturing unit set up this year and if it does not claim any exemptions, it can start paying (tax) at 25%. Second, all companies below the turnover of R5 lakh crore, basically I covered the entire SME section, have started the reduction at 29%. So, gradually, we would move forward. On indirect tax, I have altered the excise the customs, where I have to protect Make in India.
You have brought in amnesty scheme also. How would it help?
I want to clean the mess on the table. This is not an amnesty scheme. It is different from scheme 97, where you pay 30% without any penalty. The second defect in that scheme was people were using 10-year old valuation of jewellery and property. It was a discrimination against honest tax payer.
What do you have to offer for foreign investors?
As far as international investors are concerned, there are huge number of important reform decisions we have taken. For example, we would allow 100% FDI for domestic agriculture production. There is prudent fiscal management and the whole move to make Aadhar subsidy rationalisation scheme.