|"The Finance Minister had to
keep the growth engine running, take tough steps to counter
inflation and also raise resources for agriculture, healthcare,
education and infrastructure. He has succeeded in his job"
The finance minister had
his job cut out in this Budget. India has grown at an impressive
rate of 9 per cent in 2005-06. Advance estimates tell us we are
going to better it this year. However, this growth has also led
to bank credit expanding at 29.6 per cent during 2006-07. Consequently,
it is putting upward pressure on prices. The Finance Minister
has tried to focus on keeping India on this growth path clearly
keeping an eye on inflation. He has managed to contain the revenue
deficit at 2 per cent and the fiscal deficit at 3.7 per cent.
Both figures are within last year's Budget estimates, which is
The Finance Minister also stressed on the need for higher growth
in agriculture for sustainable and equitable growth. Education
was also high on his agenda. Consequently, we have seen a range
of programmes with higher outlays being announced for the sector.
Bharat Nirman and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have seen higher target
outlays for the current year.
The idea of trying to channel a small portion of the foreign
exchange reserves towards infrastructure is a good step.
The Budget has also mooted the idea of a debt management office
for managing government funds, which is a step in the right direction.
The status quo on service tax rates is a welcome step. However,
inclusion of commercial rentals in the service tax net will hurt
Corporate India, which is already reeling under high real estate
prices and shortage of space. The Finance Minister has reduced
peak import duty on all non-agricultural goods by 2.5 per cent,
moving towards ASEAN rates.
One of the progressive moves in the Budget is the introduction
of exchangeable bonds, which will help promoters fund growth by
leveraging on their equity stake in the companies. This will help
Corporate India to expand without diluting the promoter's stake
in the companies.
In keeping with his intention of containing inflation, the Budget
has introduced differential excise duty structures for cement.
While cement bags with retail prices of lower than Rs 190 will
attract a lower excise duty, those with higher prices will attract
significantly higher duties. While this has been introduced to
keep cement prices in check, supply-demand dynamics may have a
more important influence on cement prices rather than pure fiscal
On the capital markets front, the move of not increasing the
STT and capital gains tax on equity markets is a welcome step.
On the other hand, the markets were expecting clearer guidelines
to distinguish between a trader and an investor, which was not
given. Dividend distribution tax amounts to double taxation. We
hope the Finance Minister will reconsider the proposed increase
in this tax from 12.5 to 15 per cent. Again, FBT on ESOPs needs
to be reviewed, as it is an important tool for emerging companies
to attract talent at reasonable cost, especially when they are
On the corporate taxes front, it services companies have been
brought under the mat regime. The IT industry is now becoming
a mature industry from a sunrise industry and it is time for them
to contribute to the exchequer for the development of India.
The Finance Minister marginally tweaked direct tax rates, by
raising the education cess by 1 per cent. This additional revenue
will be used to fund programmes on secondary education.
The Finance Minister had to do a delicate balancing job in this
Budget. He had to keep the growth engine running, take tough steps
to counter inflation and also raise resources for the priority
areas of agriculture, healthcare, education and infrastructure.
We believe he has succeeded in his job to a great extent.
Narayan S.A. is Managing Director, Kotak Securities