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Sitharaman presents ‘aspirational Budget’


 
 NEW DELHI, Feb 1 - Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday slashed income tax for individuals, abolished dividend tax for companies and announced record spending in agriculture and infrastructure sectors to pull out the economy from its worst slowdown in more than a decade.

The cut in income tax rates, which would help save about Rs 31,000 a year in tax for persons with annual income of up to Rs 17 lakh, was however conditioned on current exemptions and deductions, including standard deduction for Rs 50,000 as well as the waiver earned on payment of up to Rs 1.5 lakh in tuition fee of children, and contribution towards insurance premium and provident fund, being given up.

Stating that the Budget is woven around aspirational India, economic development and caring society, the Finance Minister raised import duty on a variety of products ranging from tableware and kitchenware to electrical appliances to footwear, furniture, stationery and toys to boost domestic manufacturing, while at the same time provided funds to help farmers set up solar power generation units and set up cold storages to transport perishables.

Alongside, the limit of insurance cover in case of bank failure on deposits was increased to Rs 5 lakh from Rs 1 lakh, and a sale of government stake in the country’s largest insurer Life Insurance Corporation announced.

Presenting her second budget in Parliament, Sitharaman said the 2020-21 Budget was aimed at boosting incomes and enhancing purchasing power, stressing that the economy’s fundamentals were strong and inflation was well contained.

For farm and rural sectors, she allocated Rs 2.83 lakh crore and fixed Rs 15 lakh crore target for giving agriculture credit. Another Rs 1.7 lakh crore spending was planned for transport infrastructure and Rs 40,740 crore allocation was made for the energy sector.

In doing so, the government will miss its deficit target for the third year in a row, pushing shortfall to 3.8 per cent of GDP in the current fiscal as compared to 3.3 per cent previously planned. The fiscal deficit target for the coming financial year starting April 1 has been fixed at 3.5 per cent.

Sitharaman, who cut tax paid by companies to its lowest in September last year, proposed new tax slabs of 15 per cent and 25 per cent in addition to the existing 10 per cent, 20 per cent and 30 per cent. The new slabs would be for individuals not availing certain specified deductions or exemptions.

Under the proposed I-T slab, annual income up to Rs 2.5 lakh is exempt from tax. Those individuals earning between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 5 lakh will pay 5 per cent tax.

A 10 per cent tax will be charged on income between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 7.5 lakh, 15 per cent, 20 per cent and 25 per cent on next Rs 2.5 lakh each and 30 per cent on income above Rs 15 lakh.

“Currently, annual income up to Rs 2.5 lakh is exempt from income tax. While a 5 per cent tax is charged for income between Rs 2.5 and 5 lakh, it is 20 per cent for income between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 10 lakh, and 30 per cent for those earning above Rs 10 lakh... The new tax regime shall be optional for taxpayers,” she said.

Sitharaman accepted the demand of the industry to reverse the taxability of dividends back to the recipients, making equity investment more attractive. Now, dividends will be taxed in the hands of recipients, a move that will cause Rs 25,000 crore dent to her coffers.

Also, she deferred taxes for ESOPs in the hands of employees which will be an important decision for the employees to own shares in the employer without getting worried about organising cash to pay taxes. This will also provide greater flexibility to the employers and employees in the structuring of their employment prospects.

One proposal that could be become contentious was tax being imposed on Indian citizens abroad if they are not taxable in their home country.

For the next fiscal, she pegged net borrowings of Rs 5.45 lakh crore and doubled target of raising revenue from the sale of government stake in PSUs to Rs 2.1 lakh crore.

Meanwhile, in her post-Budget presser, the Finance Minister said that the government intends to remove all I-T exemptions in the long run. – PTI

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