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Union Budget: FM unveils income tax relief, small saving sops a year before elections

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The personal income tax rebate limit has been increased to Rs 7 lakh from the fiscal year starting April 1 under the new tax regime

New Delhi: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday raised the personal income tax rebate limit, doled out sops on small savings and announced one of the biggest hikes in capital spending in the past decade as she did a tight rope walk in the Budget between staying fiscally prudent and meeting public expectations in the year before general elections.

The personal income tax rebate limit has been increased to Rs 7 lakh from the fiscal year starting April 1 under the new tax regime from the previous Rs 5 lakh. Tax slabs has been cut to five from seven earlier. Also, the maximum income tax rate has been reduced to about 39 per cent from 42.7 per cent after a reduction in the highest surcharge to 25 per cent from 37 per cent.

Besides, the deposit limit for senior citizen savings schemes has been doubled to Rs 30 lakh and for Monthly Income Account Scheme to Rs 9 lakh. A new small savings scheme for women, offering 7.5 per cent interest rate on deposits of up to Rs 2 lakh for a tenor of 2 years, has been announced.

Sitharaman’s fifth straight budget comes at a time when the economy is slowing due to global headwinds and there is a need for increased spending on social sectors as well as ramping up incentives for local manufacturing.

She also announced customs duty relief on mobile phone components, as well as on capital goods for lithium batteries and other such items to boost green energy and exports.

This is the final full budget before the general elections in April/May next year. An interim budget, called vote on account, is to be presented in February next year and the new government will present the full budget sometime in July 2024.

For 2023-24, capital investment outlay has been increased steeply for the third year in a row by 33 per cent to Rs 10 lakh crore, which would be 3.3 per cent of the GDP. This will be almost three times the outlay in 2019-20.

Since coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government has ramped up capital spending, including on roads and energy, while wooing investors through lower tax rates and labour reforms, and offering subsidies to poor households to clinch their political support.

“This Budget hopes to build on the foundation laid in the previous Budget, and the blueprint drawn for India@100,” Sitharaman said in her budget speech in Lok Sabha.

Indian economy, she said, is a “bright star” with the current 7 per cent GDP growth being the highest among all the major economies.

Sitharaman said that despite a global slowdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, the Indian economy was “on the right track”.

Total expenditure is seen rising 7.4 per cent to Rs 45 lakh crore. The government would target a budget deficit of 5.9 per cent of GDP in 2023-24, down from 6.4 per cent for the current year. That would entail a gross borrowing of Rs 15.43 lakh crore.

Sitharaman said the Budget for 2023-24 (April 2023 to March 2024), adopts seven priorities — inclusive development, reaching the last mile, infrastructure and investment, unleashing the potential, green growth, youth power and financial sector.

While the agriculture credit target has been increased to Rs 20 lakh crore with focus on animal husbandry, dairy and fisheries, the increased investment in infrastructure and productive capacity is aimed at having a multiplier impact on growth and employment.

Additional Rs 9,000 crore has been provided toward credit guarantee for medium and small enterprises

Railways has been provided a capital outlay of Rs 2.40 lakh crore — the highest ever and about 9 times the outlay made in 2013-14.

An Urban Infrastructure Development Fund (UIDF) will be established for the creation of urban infrastructure in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.

The Budget has also provided Rs 35,000 crore for energy transition and net zero objectives.

Battery Energy Storage Systems with capacity of 4,000 MwH will be supported with viability gap funding, Rs 20,700 crore will be spent in building a transmission system to evacuate 13 GW renewable energy from Ladakh.

The outlay for the affordable housing scheme, PM Awas Yojana, has been increased 66 per cent to Rs 79,000 crore.

Other highlights of the budget include reviving 50 additional airports, heliports and water aerodromes, and establishing a National Digital Library to make available quality books across languages, geographies and genres.

The income tax relief provided for individual taxpayers would be a 25 per cent reduction in tax outgo of an individual with an annual income of Rs 9 lakh as he or she would be required to pay only Rs 45,000 as against Rs 60,000 crore.

Similarly, an individual with an income of Rs 15 lakh would be required to pay only Rs 1.5 lakh or 10 per cent of his or her income, a reduction of 20 per cent from the existing liability of Rs 1,87,500, Sitharaman said.

“This will provide major relief to all taxpayers in the new regime,” she said.

Also, the Rs 50,000 standard deduction provided in the old tax regime has now been extended to the new tax regime.

The limit of Rs 3 lakh for tax exemption on leave encashment on retirement of non-government salaried employees will be increased to Rs 25 lakh.

The total revenue foregone from the reduction in direct and indirect taxes after accounting for a small gain from additional mobilisation will be Rs 35,000 crore annually.

“The narrower deficit forecast in the Union government budget for 2023-24 underscores the government’s commitment to longer-term fiscal sustainability and supports the economy amid high inflation and a challenging global environment,” Moody’s Investor Service said in its initial comments on the Budget.

Although the gradual fiscal consolidation trend is intact and will help to stabilise the government’s debt burden relative to nominal GDP, the high debt burden and weak debt affordability are constraints that offset India’s fundamental strengths, including its high growth potential and deep domestic capital markets, it said.

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