BUDGET 2021: MORE POSITIVES, FEW NEGATIVES?

Budget Day: At the GCCI live telecast for business and industry representatives

By Tara Narayan

IT will be a long time before the people of India get a honest to goodness bottom up budget! Although the general consensus after taking stock of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s presentation of the 2021 budget is that “All in all she has made a good effort!” This is to quote Rajender Narvekar (president, All Goa Tax
Payers Association) who was commenting after the GCCI’s relay of the live telecast going on in Parliament at the Chamber’s Convention Hall in Panaji on Monday, February 1, 2021, 11 am onwards.
This traditional GCCI practice is attended by GCCI office bearers, several business and industry representatives along with media people keen to catch immediate reactions to the budget. Generally speaking most speakers post-budget telecast were of the opinion that it was a balanced budget, a continuation of last year’s budget because there is no increase in taxes and stress in investment post-Covid-2020 traumas. What is important is that people should now respond to the budget in a positive way! Because mostly the status quo of last year’s budget is maintained with no extra burden of taxation and funds have been allocated for improving infrastructure and making it easier to collect revenue.
Sandip Bhandare (IMM past president, Goa Chamber) summed it up as “a good budget” considering the kind of challenges the people of the country had to cope with in last year’s pandemic lockdowns and mass migrant exodus out of state after state. Under the circumstance the FM’s budge has come “as a great relief” and based as it is on the six pillars mentioned in the budget, “it will make for inclusive development with minimum government and maximum governance.” Meaning government interference has been removed and there will be further ease in doing business with further decentralization, “it’s a kind of seriousness in implementation and 2021 has started on a note of hope with the vaccination program under way….”
The 2021-2022 budget hopes to even smoothen GST collections further and ignite a global values chain although the focus is on Atmanirbhar Bharat. The bit of real good news is that senior citizens who’ve crossed 75 years and living on pension and interest income need not file tax returns! This may be cold comfort for the many who do not see their 75th year on the good earth and for those seniors who have neither a pension or interest coming from bank FD deposits but are dependent on the charity and mercy of their children if they have any. Other than this senior citizens have nothing to lighten the burden in the winter of their lives.
On the surface of it the budget conveys that it is reaching out to the common poor person’s needs at the bottom of society’s ladder but clearly it is a budget to placate the middle classes who make up the bulk of taxpayers. As if belatedly taking cognizance of the widespread labor migration back to their rural home states last year during Covid-19’s lockdowns, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget talks of tax exemption for notified affordable rental housing projects for migrants wherever they are in the country. Will the industrial estates come up with this rental projects for migrant labor or seek government funding?
There are financial incentives for start-ups which may claim a tax holiday. One of the speakers at the GCCI session said although the budget is loaded up with positives there is not much for affordable real estate; Parimal Kulkarni (chairperson, GCCI Taxation Committee) said there’s the major change vis-a-vis indirect taxes with GST now requiring statuary auditing.
Others who spoke included Santosh Kenkre (vice-chairperson, Goa Branch of Indo-American Chamber of Commerce) who said the budget should receive a huge welcome especially on the COVID-19 pandemic situation, “the budget has sanctioned an expenditure of 25crore for Covid vaccines and India is showing the world we can fight. The poor will get help, there will be energy and water for all. This budget will boost the economy in the long run even if it is a 9.5% fiscal deficit budget! The finance minister is not bothered about that.” Hotelier Jack Sukhija (vice-president, TTAG) who said the tourism industry which is the worst hit has received no incentives, he expressed his disappointment, commenting, “after all the government is promoting Desh apna dekho…but where are the incentives to promote this?” Tourism which is an industry in Goa has taken a beating because foreign tourists are not coming at all and even domestic tourism is down by 50 percent or so. He reckoned that only 25% of hotels are open for business currently in Goa. Never mind that the real big news is that the budget has allocated300 crore for Goa for its Diamond Jubilee celebrations! It’s anyone guess how Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s government wills spend this windfall.
Good budget, so so budget. It’s left to be seen how well corruption will be curtailed at the top echelons of ministerial government and how the welfare policies allocated funds will be implemented. As it is said the proof is in the eating of the pudding and so everything will depend on how the budget goodies will be implemented at the discretion of Central and State governments. Most of do know that governments of the day are not immune to graft and unsavory political games which politicians play to steal from the public exchequer, and the fallout is perennially shoddy ground level infrastructure.
This is to conclude that is still the bad news when it comes to no matter how wonderful the sound of this country’s budget. As far as the common housewife is concerned a thali meal at Café Bhonsale is now priced at 120 (a hike from100) and in the market a bunch of greens is 20, onions and potatoes in the60-70 kg range and a gauti pink grapefruit 100 per piece. Milk is23 per half liter and curd 30 half kg (Govid curd). Bananas are selling at60-100 dozen depending on whether they’re “elchi” or some other local variety, apples200 kg plus, plus.
In inflationary terms prices nowadays go up not by a humble rupee or two but a straight 5-10-20! Take a look at the prices of pulses in the times of Covid-19 -- Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman could have spared a thought for the aam aadmi housewife who keeps cutting down on essential needs for her household. Steep indirect taxing may well kill the goose which lays the geese which lay the golden eggs presumably. Talking of healthcare visit any private healthcare facility in town Panaji and the minimum consultancy charge is400 per visit. A bit of good news is the 2021 budget boosts healthcare with a lay out of a `64,180 crore spending plan over the next six years, the money will be spent on primary, second and tertiary healthcare, in addition to the National Health Mission and covering over 17,000 rural and 11,000 urban health and wellness centers to be set up with a vision of integrated public health labs to be set up in each district.
In conclusion, the budget reads well balanced but perhaps deceptively so at least for this correspondent! Others who spoke and were present at the GCCI’s relay Budget2021 live telecast session included business stalwarts Manguirish Pai Raiker (chairperson, Assocham’s National Council for MSME), Vishwanath Kochkar (president, Goa State Industry Association), Dr Praveen Khullar (president, Goa Pharma Manufacturing Association), Pradeep Kakodkar (vice-chairman, Goa branch of WIRC of ICAI), Nilesh Salkar (president, CREDAI Goa) and not last and least of all industrialist and philanthropist Nana Bandekar of NRB group of industries who is also a former and president of the GCCI.

“This year’s budget is coming in the backdrop of an exceptionally chaotic 2020. In Q1 of FY21 India’s lockdown gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by an unprecedented23.9 percent, the worst among major economies. When the economy opened up, pent-up demand pushed up consumption, but GDP still shrank 7.5 per cent in Q2. And even though the RBI predicts that the economic shrinkage is over and GDP will grow 0.1 per cent and 0.7 per cent in third and fourth quarters, respectively, FY21 is destined to go down in history as India’s fifth recession. In this backdrop of extreme stress, Finance Minister Nirmal Sitharaman has promised a “never before” like Union budget as the government looks to steer the pandemic-battered economy and push growth. Like everyone else in India the business community in Goa is waiting with bated breath to know what the Finance Minister is planning to do to unleash the potential of India’s economy.”
— Ramakant Kamat, Director General, GCCI

BUDGET 2021-2022 POLL

Ralph De Sousa, Vice President, GCCI: Goa Chamber congratulates Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for presenting a balanced and a growth oriented budget. The Indian economy which was already under stress due to persisting global slowdown was further strained by the COVID-19 pandemic. In these unprecedented times, the government was expected to initiate some strong measures to revive the economy. Unprecedented allocations on sectors like healthcare, infrastructure, financial sector, education and skilling, etc., may upset the fiscal prudence that the government has been observing thus far. But the government has preferred growth over fiscal prudence. The thrust on agriculture, fisheries, SWAMITVA Scheme, migrant workers and laborers, financial inclusion to further facilitate credit flow under the scheme of Stand-up India for SCs, STs, and women, conciliation mechanism and mandate its use for quick resolution of contractual disputes, etc, should help Goa as well.
On the direct taxation front there is no relief in tax rates; however, it is relief that the much rumored COVID Cess has not been proposed. Extension to affordable housing tax relief is a welcome move. There are few more reliefs on compliance and assessment areas. Reliefs are also given for setting up one-person company, relief in compliance through classification as a small company. A stable tax regime, focus on disinvestment and monetization, opening up of insurance, cleanup plan for stressed assets, focus on ease of doing business are some of the reforms that will augur well for the Indian economy.
A grant of Rs300 crore to the government of Goa for the celebration would help in supporting the tourism activity Goa. Goan economy depends on tourism and we would have been happier if the budget had made some provisions to encourage the hospitality and tourism sector. Goa is also a big fishing hub and could have been included in the plan for development of modern fishing harbors and fish landing centers. The chamber would prefer to take up this issue with the Central government.

‘Goan Observer’ asked a few women about Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s BJP budget… from a women’s point of view:

Stella Shah, housewife:
This is a just the usual cheapskate budget of a government which is on a roll growing fat and gross on people’s money. Without giving the people of this country a good living index and decent infrastructure of roti, kapda, makan, bijli, sadak…it wants to celebrate its own good luck in being able to stay in power by hook and by crook. I don’t like businessmen and businesswomen in government – then there is no government, only those who want to fill their own private nests at the cost of the country’s real development and progress. We are still a third world country ruled by a white elephantine government going amuck intoxicated as it by public funds to spend at its own whims and fancies. This morning at the market in Goa I paid 3 for a single drumstick! It’s50 for five drumsticks. Better to own a drumstick tree in my own garden! The happiest people around the world today are farmers poor or rich…

Heena Khan, secretary:
Now I have stopped shopping, even petrol has become expensive and I can’t go anywhere. Even if four people are earning at home it is not enough, the income just goes away….yes, little by little I have stopped shopping – even a bit of gold I can’t afford to buy although they say the price of gold has gone down courtesy this woman’s budget. Perhaps FM is hoping to buy a lot of jewellery for her children and offering Rs300 crore to Pramod Sawant to buy also!

Bharati P, journalist:
I’m in state of bliss for budgets don’t affect me. I am a dal-chawal person and have nothing by way of properties, FDIs or investments…I work and spend all my earnings, there’s nothing left over. Prices may go up or down. Those who have riches have to worry about how to escape taxes, let those who have too much worry about the budget! That’s all I have to say, budgets don’t affect me and I don’t bother about them. I think Nirmala Sitharaman is sensible and has worked out a sensible budget. World Bank is looking at India and those doing dirty deeds will be detrimental to the country. Bahut hogaya! Enough is enough!

Saumya Naik, housewife-cum-professional, 41 years:
Giving income tax waiver to senior citizens is a total waste because with this budget I don’t think many will live to be 75! See how the price of pulses have been going up, dal is a poor person’s protein and if the price of dal goes up what will the poor eat? Nothing will change until this government changes!

Eusebia Coutinho, Socorro, Goa

As a retired senior citizen, my first reaction to the budget was ‘ok no surprises’ and ‘relief‘ that no covid cess is proposed. Personal income tax is left untouched, but I was also disappointed that no relief is provided either for seniors or women. As a woman, the shine of gold has become slightly more affordable … with import duty on the metal being marginally dropped. As a housewife, in these times of online classes, providing mobile phones for children will be challenging; will need to re-think investing in comforts like air-conditioners, refrigerators, LED lighting and cars. Increase in edible oil prices will hit family budgets too. However, allocation to healthcare is very welcome, though the cut in education expenditures is disappointing.


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