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Pieces in the Budget jigsaw
February, 28th 2008

With just a day to go for Budget 2008, the expectations are running high. Let us see what can be in store for the different players in the economy.

The burgeoning foreign exchange reserves are proving to be a mixed bag. The Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, has been dropping veiled hints at making the rupee fully convertible. Will he? It does not seem plausible. Remember the ban in futures tr ading in rice, wheat and a couple of dals last year? The last thing we would want to hear is that of the rupee appreciating because of it being tradable freely in the forward market.

Of concern has been the way the rising rupee has been hurting export-oriented sectors textile, for instance. How about reduction in excise and Customs duties, and an elixir in the form of abolition of the additional Customs duty of 4 per cent?

With so much talk now about pink slips, nobody is turning green when talking of the IT (information technology) sector. And if retrenchment becomes the flavour of the season, the repercussions will be felt in a myriad of sectors, including housing and auto sales.

Better to provide some sops so that the sector sustains its momentum.

Will a ban on gold and silver trading rein in the prices of these metals. After all, India is the largest consumer of the yellow metal. And, what about a ban on crude oil trading? Maybe. That will help ease inflationary pressures.

Middle class aspirations

If you belong to the middle-class, then this could be your day out. Take a look at what can be done for you. How about:

Increasing the taxable slabs and reducing the tax rates?

Doing away with the surcharge and the educational cess?

Increasing the amount exempt for housing to a more reasonable Rs 3,00,000?

Aligning the conveyance allowance with the current situation.

I suspect the Finance Minister will go soft on the fairer sex and probably do another good turn for the senior citizens. How about doing away with filing of returns for senior citizens who do not have taxable income? Wishful thinking? Let us wait and see.

On the other hand, I suspect that more heads of income will fall under the ambit of TDS. The certainty that comes with it would make Adam Smith smile. Service tax relief? No way. That is the golden goose. We can expect more services to be brought under its ambit and possibly a hike in the rates. At best, what Mr Chidambaram could provide us with is a differential service tax regime.

For the captains

If you are one of the captains driving the Indian economy, then there is a whole lot which you could ask for.

First, the thorny issue of FBT which ideally should be done away with. Perhaps, it is also a good time to look at reducing the tax outflow of companies and align it with the global trends.

The Finance Minister would not require any reminder on the fact that with collections and compliance on a high, the coffers are, well, getting filled up. At the crux of Indias development now are bottlenecks in infrastructure. This being crucial for sustaining and improving growth, incentives can be expected for stepping up activity in this crucial area.

Our lives are likely to be lit up by some sops to the power sector. And in all probability, the Mr Chidambaram will reduce the duties on small cars. This will keep the dream of making India a hub for small cars alive. He will do well to make it easier and cheaper for us to get loans for buying not only these cars but also more gadgets for our houses. What better way to keep the momentum in the economy going and keep us smiling?

Bulls and bears

And what is in store for the bulls and the bears? The bears would love it if the FM re-introduced long-term capital gains (LTCG) tax. The icing on the cake would be to hike the short-term capital gains tax and the STT (securities transaction tax). On the other hand, leaving these touched, along with a reduction in interest rates, would enable the bulls to rear their heads again.

Will the Prime Ministers promise to remove the noose from the farmers neck be kept? The Finance Minister has the opportunity to come up with a comprehensive plan which should encompass not only waivers, but a longer term plan to include proper and adequate insurance.

It would also be a good idea to provide more incentives for microfinance initiatives which can help free the community from the clutches of the unorganised financiers.

Pradeep Chandrasekaran
(The author is a Chennai-based financial analyst.)
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