I don’t want to be seen as criticising the finance minister. I don’t think his is a bad budget. As a businessman, I would always like to see more done to open up markets and usher in reforms. As a private citizen, I can see his motives. Measures for the twin growth drivers of consumption and investment have been taken care of. Also, the focus on rural consumption, spending and infrastructure will help India differentiate itself from China, which didn’t focus on domestic growth and rural spending, and is now paying the price.
Accelerated power reforms with increased infrastructure spending is the budget’s standout highlight. Clearly, the sector is being viewed as a key driver of growth. Developing cold chain infrastructure is also a great initiative. I will also praise the abolition of FBT. Shelving of this bothersome tax was overdue. This, along with the withdrawal of 10 per cent surcharge on personal income tax, will leave people with more money and boost consumption. On the social level, the mission to reduce female illiteracy by half in three years is admirable.
Some areas have not been addressed at all or have been done, at the most, inadequately. The first of these is a no-brainer—FDI relaxation and reform. This should happen quickly. Disinvestment was also mentioned, but clarity is needed on quantum and targets—a key component for economic growth. While infrastructure spending was announced, the market expected tax subsidies on investments by the private sector. When all the proposals are well-executed, we will all get better roads, power, airports, rural infrastructure, education and healthcare. ifci alone will fund Rs 1 lakh crore worth of public-private partnership.
Overall, the budget meets my expectations and I am optimistic that many other positive measures will be announced and articulated over the coming months.
(Gautam Thapar is chairman & CEO, Avantha Group)