The Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, announced the Union Budget 2018 on 1st February 2018 with components possessing the potential to have a transformational influence on various sectors of the economy. The current Indian economy has reached US$ 2.5 Trillion and is on its way to becoming the 5th largest in the world. GDP is projected at 7.4 % while the number of taxpayers has increased from 6.47 crores to 8.27 crores and a direct tax revenue growth rate of 18.7% has been achieved as of January 15th. The Union Budget is poised to leverage this upward trajectory and provide the impetus for further development at a macro and micro level. Many of the provisions in the Budget directly impact the daily life of a common man. This blog intends to dwell upon these provisions.
Health, Housing and Employment Receives a Major Boost
NHPS (National Health Protection Scheme) dubbed as the world’s largest government-funded healthcare program will be extended to provide up to ?5 lakh towards hospitalisation for 10 crore families and ultimately 50 crore actual beneficiaries from underprivileged backgrounds.
Affordable Housing Fund (AHF) has been announced to ensure housing for all by 2022. Under this program, 51 lakh houses in 2017-18 and 2018-19 each will be constructed in rural areas with 37 lakh houses in urban areas.
?40,000 crores worth of concessions were announced for senior citizens. The annual exemption limit on interest income from fixed and recurring deposit schemes including small savings instruments has been increased from ?10,000 to ?50,000 in addition to increasing the ceiling for Section 80D from ?30,000 to ?50,000.
To facilitate employment generation, Government will contribute 12% of wages to EPF for 3 years. The Finance Ministry has also reduced EPF deduction to 8% for women employees thus significantly increasing their take-home salary while maintaining employer contribution at 12%.
A Huge Fillip to Travel and Transportation – Growth and Modernisation
Travel and transportation received a huge fillip across roads, railways and civil aviation. ?1,48,528 crores have been reserved for boosting railway network capacity and gauge conversion. Over 4000 km will be electrified in addition to redeveloping over 600 major railway stations and progressively equipping all stations and trains with Wi-Fi and CCTV. ?17,000 crores have also been allotted for augmenting Bangalore’s suburban railway network. The Government will quintuple the number of airports to 124 and connect hitherto unserved 56 airports and 36 heliports under UDAN, the regional connectivity program. Around 9000 km of highways will be completed by the end of FY 2017-18 and over 35,000 km of interior roads will be completed in Phase 1.
Digital India – Integrated Education and Research – Major Focus
Under the massive ?3,073 crore Digital India Program, over 5 lakh Wi-Fi hotspots will be set up to provide broadband access to 5 crore rural citizens. This opens up an avenue for individuals in rural India to access formal finance from digital lenders via the internet. New centres of excellence in the areas of AI, Big Data, Quantum communication and Internet of Things (IoT) will be established to boost indigenous intellectual capital in these crucial areas. An additional ?14,500 crores have been earmarked for strengthening telecom infrastructure including BharatNet. To harness emerging technologies, particularly 5G, an indigenous Test Bed at IIT, Chennai will receive ?135 crores.
The Government has launched a new program RISE (Revitalization of Infrastructure and Systems in Education) funded by a non-banking financing agency HEFA (Higher Education Financing Agency) with ?1 lakh crore. In higher education, under the Prime Minister’s Research Fellow Scheme, 1000 B.Tech students will be identified and facilitated to complete PhD at India’s prestigious institutes. Up to 24 new medical colleges are to be started and upgrade of several existing colleges was announced to ensure at least one Government College for each state in India. Two new schools of planning and architecture will also be set up in addition to 18 more IIT/NIITs.
On the personal income tax front, there are no new changes in income tax slabs or structure. However, a standard deduction of ? 40,000 will be introduced in lieu of transport and medical allowances while a higher allowance will be allowed for disabled individuals. From April 1, 2018, long-term capital gains of more than ? 1 Lakh will be taxed at 10% though gains until January 31, 2018, and will be grandfathered. Dividends from equity Mutual Funds will now attract DDT to perhaps discourage investors investing in Equity funds primarily for dividends. In an effort to promote gold as an attractive asset class, the existing Gold Monetisation Scheme (GMS) will be made more investor-friendly and a network of regulated gold exchanges will be set up.
Though the budget was projected as agriculture-oriented and farmer-friendly, it is balanced and well-intentioned. Huge boost to expanding and upgrading transportation infrastructure especially the railways and supporting underprivileged with healthcare, housing and employment are the cornerstones of this Union Budget. Substantial measures in the areas of digital economy and education pave the way towards India becoming an economic superpower.