Interim Budget

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The BJP-government has moved away from the established conventional norms of presenting financial proposals on account before the announcement of general elections in the country. The Interim Budget 2019-20 has been ranked as one of the most politically expedient ones, India has seen so far. The shadow of the general elections has squarely fallen on the budgetary proposals, which are aimed at seeking votes in the name of various schemes that extend cash benefits to the people in the country. This is being done with a high hope of the BJP-government to cash in on votes during the Parliamentary elections, which are likely to be announced in less than a month from now. It is yet to be seen whether this strategy works or not for the BJP and its allies in the government. Moreover, the budgetary proposals appear to be the last weapon in its armoury for attracting votes from the common masses because the previous schemes have miserably failed in weaning away the anger of the masses from the wrong policies. The latter have caused massive upsurge among the people, who have witnessed utterly miserable slowdown in the economic activities after the demonetization followed by implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST). But there is no denying the fact that a lot of thought has gone into identifying and targeting the some sections of population across social segments that are in distress and unhappy with the centre for a variety of reasons. For farmers, who are reeling under the impact of falling realisations for their crops, there is an income support scheme and a pension scheme for informal sector workers earning up to Rs 15,000 a month. There are income tax concessions for the middle class that have been carefully framed to target the lower rung. The Rs 6,000 a year income support to farmers will benefit 12 crore households, which is almost half of the total number of households in the country. Similarly, the increase in standard deduction from Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 may be small but it will cover three crore taxpayers, which is again almost half of the 6.8 crore taxpayers. The income tax rebate on those with taxable annual income of up to Rs 5 lakh a year will benefit three crore middle class voters that includes traders, small businesses, those who have just joined the formal workforce and pensioners. The higher income group people are not happy with these proposals. With the sole aim of attracting votes, the budgetary proposals will benefit a few sections of the population, the question arises whether it is correct for the government that will be in power for less than two months to pen down something in statutes books proposals that are permanent. In the past, the budget has been presented on account only for a period of three months and most of the details are left to be worked by the next government that will be in place after the elections. Though some past governments have announced concessions in their interim budgets with an eye on elections, this budget has gone much further by announcing very significant measures. In political terms, the strategy cannot be faulted as it appears to have put the Opposition in a difficult spot – protesting too much about the concessions given to those in distress may be counter-productive. It is agreed that some of these ideas may actually work in economic terms as they put money in people’s hands. The housing-related tax proposals can give a leg-up to the real estate sector, which is a job-creator and is now in the red. The sops come with a cost. The centre will miss the glide-path for reducing the fiscal deficit, once again. The estimated slippage of 0.10 percentage point is not significant if it is assumed that the concessions will spur spending by the beneficiaries. This is, of course, assuming that the gross tax revenue projection of Rs 25.52 lakh crore, which is a 13.5% growth over the revised estimates of 2018-19, is achieved. But this arithmetic will be the headache of the next government. Apart from this, it is going to be uphill task for the new government to correct some of the decisions taken by BJP-government.