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How income tax slabs have changed since Independence
January, 21st 2019

From an eye-watering 97.75 per cent as the highest tax rate and 11 tax slabs, to 30 per cent as the highest rate and three slabs, India and her taxpayers have come a long way since Independence.

Finance minister, Arun Jaitley, will present this government's last budget before the general elections, on February 1. And as usual, expectations are high and taxpayers are hoping that there will some good news in the way of changes in the income tax slabs.

But not every Budget hasd in it many big bang tax reform announcements. In fact, a lot of them have been non-events.

Although Jaitley left the tax slabs unchanged last year, here is how the tax slabs have evolved since Independence.
This was the first time the tax rates were tinkered with in Independent India. The then finance minister, John Mathai reduced tax on incomes up to Rs 10,000 by a quarter of an anna, from one anna to nine pies in the first slab, and from two annas to "one nine pies" in the second slab. (An anna was a currency unit formerly used in India and Pakistan, and it is equal to 1/16 a rupee. It was divided into 4 paisa or 12 pies, thus there were 64 paise in a rupee and 192 pies).
Y. B. Chavan cut the maximum marginal rate from an eye watering 97.75 per cent to 75 per cent. Taxes were lowered at all levels of personal incomes. Here is what he did: No income-tax for those earning up to Rs.6,000; marginal rate of basic income-tax was kept at 70 per cent on the income slab over Rs.70,000. The rate of surcharge was reduced to a uniform level of 10 per cent for all categories. The combined incidence of income-tax and surcharge would amount to 77 per cent of the taxable income in the highest slab. Wealth tax was increased.
Vishwanath Pratap Singh restructured the tax structure by reducing the number of income tax slabs from eight to four. The highest marginal rate of income tax on personal incomes decreased from 61.875 per cent to 50 per cent. Those earning less than Rs.18,000 paid no tax, the rate of income tax on the slab of Rs 18,001 to Rs 25,000 was fixed at 25 per cent; on the slab of Rs 25,001 to Rs 50,000 it was 30 per cent; on Rs 50,001 to Rs 1 lakh tax was 40 per cent; and on the income in excess of Rs 1 lakh it was 50 per cent.

It is starting to look a lot like the tax structure we know today. Manmohan Singh reduced the number of slabs to three. Entry rate was 20 per cent applicable for incomes Rs 30, 000 to Rs 50,000, a middle slab for incomes between Rs 50,000 and Rs1 lakh with a tax of 30 percent, and a maximum rate of 40 per cent for those earning above Rs1 lakh.

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After a gap of two years, Manmohan Singh adjusted the tax slabs but kept the rates unchanged. The first slab was set at Rs 35,000 to Rs. 60,000, with the same rate of 20 per cent tax, second slab was set as Rs 60,000 to Rs 1.2 lakh with the same rate of 30 per cent tax, and maximum tax rate of 40 per cent was set for income over Rs 1.2 lakh.

Although V.P Singh and Manmohan Singh were the ones to cut the number of slabs in their budgets, it was P. Chidambaram who presented the 'Dream Budget'. He replaced the prevailing rates of 15, 30 and 40 per cent with 10, 20 and 30 per cent. Those in the first slab earning Rs 40,000 to Rs 60,000 paid a tax of 10 per cent, 20 per cent in the slab of Rs. 60,000 to Rs. 1.5 lakh, and 30 per cent for all income above Rs. 1.5 lakh. He also increased the limit of standard deduction to Rs. 20,000, which would apply uniformly to all salaried taxpayers. Further, it was announced that all employees drawing a salary of Rs 75,000 per annum and contributing 10 per cent to the provident fund would have to pay no tax at all.

After almost 10 years, it was once again Chidambaram who announced some considerable changes in the tax brackets. He announced that those earning up to Rs 1 lakh would pay no tax, those earning Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh were taxed at 10 percent, Rs1.5 lakh to Rs2.5 lakh were to be taxed at 20 per cent, and those earning over Rs2.5 lakh were to pay 30 per cent as tax.
After a gap of five years, Pranab Mukherjee, changed the income slabs. He announced that those earning up to Rs 1.6 lakh would pay zero tax, those in the income bracket of Rs 1.6 lakh to Rs 5 lakh would pay 10 percent, those in the bracket Rs 5 lakh to Rs 8 lakh would pay 20 percent, and anyone earning more than Rs 8 lakh would pay 30 per cent.


Not only did Mukherjee increase the exemption limit for the general category of individual taxpayers from Rs 1.8 lakh to Rs 2 lakh, he also changed the tax slabs slightly. He announced that those earning up to Rs 2 lakh a year did not have to pay tax, those earning between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 5 lakh would now pay 10 per cent, those earning Rs 5 lakh-Rs10 lakh would pay a tax of 20 per cent, those earning above Rs 10 lakh would pay 30 per cent.

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With the passage of Finance Bill, 2015, wealth-tax was abolished with effect from assessment year (AY) 2016-17. Arun Jaitley replaced the wealth tax with a surcharge of 2 per cent on the super-rich with a taxable income of above Rs 1 crore. Taxpayers, therefore, were not required to file a wealth tax return from AY 2016-17 onward.
Jaitley reduced the existing rate of taxation for individual assesses with income between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 5 lakh to 5% from the present rate of 10%. Added to this, the existing rebate under Section 87A of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (which was earlier given to people earning up to Rs 5 lakh) was also reduced to Rs 2,500 from Rs 5,000 for those earning between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 3.5 lakh. Hence, due to the combined effect of the new rebate under Section 87A and the reduction in the lowest slab to 5 percent, the tax burden for those earning up to Rs 3 lakh would be nil, and for those in the Rs 3 lakh to Rs 3.5 lakh bracket would be Rs 2,500.

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