“Before any discussion on the numbers around the Budget, it is clear that if anyone were to ask ‘How high was Piyush Goyal’s josh [spirit]?’ the answer would not be in doubt.” This tweet by Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra and Mahindra, the $21 billion business group, perfectly described the mood with which interim finance minister Goyal presented the last Budget of this government in Parliament on Friday.
Goyal’s Budget speech, which is widely being seen as the government sounding off the election bugle, managed to lift India Inc.’s spirits as well. Corporate India was optimistic that the various measures taken to leave more money in the hands of the people—across rural and urban areas—would boost consumerism. This is expected to lead to a greater collective demand for goods and services. This, along with some sector-specific measures announced by the government, is expected to benefit sectors such as consumer goods, real estate, and automobiles in varying degrees.
“The Budget was on expected lines, being a pre-election Budget. At the same time it was prudent. The government hasn't gone overboard in trying to be populist. Fiscal prudence has been maintained,” said Pawan Goenka, managing director of Mahindra and Mahindra. “An expected fiscal deficit of 3.4% for 2019-2020 is a good number. However, it is not clear where the revenue will come from to finance the schemes announced by the government.”
The biggest announcement made during the Budget by Goyal was the approval of a new guaranteed income scheme for small and marginal farmers called Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN). Under this scheme, the bank accounts of farmers who own less than 2 hectares of land will be credited with ₹6,000 per year. The total outlay for this scheme envisaged in 2019-2020 is ₹75,000 crore.
Another programme called the Pradhan Mantri Shram-Yogi Maandhan, will give unorganised workers with a monthly income of up to ₹15,000, a monthly pension of ₹3,000 after they turn 60, in lieu of a nominal contribution per month.
The finance minister has also sought to provide relief to the middle class by giving salaried individuals with an annual salary of ₹5 lakh a full tax rebate and other tax benefits on overheads such as house rent.
“The distressed farmers will stand to benefit by several measures announced. The cash support of ₹6,000 per year to them is a good beginning to increase their income and lift them above poverty level as experienced in Telangana,” said Ashok Hinduja, chairman, Hinduja Group (India). “Another welcome measure is the assured monthly pension for unorganised sector workers. However, more money supply into the economy should not lead to inflation and other adverse effects.”
Godrej Group chairman Adi Godrej termed it a “good” Budget and said it would benefit agriculturists, including those engaged in animal husbandry and fishing. “The subvention for MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) loans will also be useful. Small businesses haven’t been performing as well as large businesses,” Godrej said. “Increased money in the hands of the people will help all consumption-led sectors including consumer goods.”
Hinduja pointed out that despite the increased expenditure on account of PM-KISAN and loss of revenue on account of the tax relief to middle-class taxpayers, the government had done well to maintain the budgeted fiscal deficit for 2019-20 at 3.4% of GDP, versus the earlier estimate of 3.3%. “But if the higher deficit leads to creation of more goods and services, it will not affect the economic growth. On the whole, the acting finance minister has done a good job,” Hinduja said.
However, the industry’s long-standing demand of reducing the rate of taxation on corporates, something which finance minister Arun Jaitley (who is currently on medical leave) had indicated the government would work towards, remained unfulfilled in this Budget as well. That was hardly surprising since the government appeared to have little headroom left to provide succour to industry after doling out sops to farmers and the middle class.
“I was bracing for a populist, profligate Budget driven by ‘election panic’. I’m just grateful that the reliefs to the key middle class and farmer segments were delivered in a measured way without risking bankruptcy of the economy. This was a controlled, pump-priming exercise,” Mahindra summed up on Twitter.