Demonetization And Indian Budget 2017 – OpEd

The BJP government in India unveiled it annual budget on February 1 that focuses on recovery after the cash crunch unleashed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shock therapy, and which has made people feel badly stranded at a crossroads without cash and not  knowing where to go for getting their own money deposited in banks.

While demonetization forces the people to deposit all their money in banks, especially in rural areas where the economy is hidden, India’s Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley claimed his budget is focused on increasing rural incomes and boosting infrastructure, besides ushering in long-pending reforms in the financial sector.

Modi’s surprise decision last November on a night as the results of US presidency poll were pouring in, to scrap high-value banknotes worth 86 percent of India’s cash in circulation has hit consumer demand, disrupted supply chains and hurt capital investments. PM Modi did find some space in international news, but he could not equal or outsmart Trump’s grand victory defeating the “official candidate” Hillary Clinton.

As Gujarat CM, Modi had promised a vibrant economy during his 2014 maiden elections to parliament from Varanasi in UP, but India’s economy has only just survived, let alone becoming a strong one — below the target rate of 8 percent or more that Modi needs to create enough jobs for the 1 million young Indians who enter the workforce in India, a nation of 1.3 billion where half the population is below the age of 25.

Jaitley presented his budget as five states are going to assembly polls later this month the outcomes of which could decide the future politics of India as well as political alliances and equation. Jaitley said that the impact on growth from the government’s cash crackdown would wear off soon. “We are seen as an engine of global growth,” Jaitley said as he delivered the opening remarks of his fourth budget.

Budgets are essentially statements on the status of national economy and they are meant to allocate resources for every sector of the nation and specify the sources of resources including taxes needed for developmental projects, etc. Generally the budgets remain as unfulfilled promises and project proposals as a lot of resources are being diverted and siphoned off by many “important” persons for their personal and private purposes, thereby making corruption inevitable at the source.

The budget talked about concessional tax rates being provided to those moving toward non-cash payment mechanisms, and making it mandatory for many Government transactions to move to digital, which again are important steps in this direction. The reduction of personal income tax at the lowest slab to 5 percent is more a gesture of goodwill for those who bore the pain of demonetization, rather than a big reward.

The budget makes clear the intention of the Government to fight black money and digitize the economy. Limiting the amount of cash per transaction to Rs. 3 lakh, reducing the limit of cash donations to trusts/political parties to Rs. 2,000 per person, and coming up with an innovative way of funding political parties (electoral bonds) are all excellent initiatives. The implementation, though, needs to be watched.

Jaitley’s chief economic adviser advocated slashing personal income tax and accelerating cuts in corporate tax rates. He cautioned, however, against pursuing debt-fuelled fiscal expansion. Still, economists are penciling in a federal fiscal deficit of 3.3 percent of GDP for 2017/18. That would be higher than the 3 percent pledged earlier but lower than 3.5 percent that the government has budgeted for the year soon to end.

The BJP budget has been in consistent with the government’s focus over the last two years on “fundamental” growth, rather than subsidies and loan waivers. It focused on increasing rural incomes and boosting infrastructure, besides ushering in long-pending reforms in the financial sector.

The rollout of a nationwide Goods and Services tax (GST), expected in July after years of delays, and could also weigh on economic growth. Countries that have introduced GST in the past have often faced a relative economic slowdown before the benefits of a unified tax regime feed through.

The budget, as well as the government, has not taken into account the suicides of farmers in rural areas, although the budget also provided for an additional Rs.20, 000 crores for the long-term irrigation fund under NABARD. The total allocations to rural, farm, and allied sectors saw a whopping 24 percent hike in outlay at over Rs 1, 87,000 crore.

The impetus given to affordable housing by according it the status of an ‘Infrastructure Industry’ and increasing the area eligible for affordable housing are steps in the right direction, which would ensure that more people in the country can afford to buy their own homes.

Reportedly, assets worth $7.6 trillion are stashed in tax havens across the globe. Jurisdictions known as ‘tax havens’ offer powerful MNCs and rich individuals banking secrecy and the ability to sidestep financial regulations that apply to ordinary people. However, this secrecy hurts the public, as profits and wealth go untaxed, countries lose revenue and allocations in budgets shrink. Reportedly, assets worth $7.6 trillion are stashed in tax havens across the globe.

Not only the rich lords hoard black cash in the country, but the cross-border movement of money that is illegally earned, transferred or utilized (through trade manipulation, organized crime and corruption) or tax avoidance by multinational companies also cause over $1 trillion every year to illicit financial flows in developing countries, including India.

Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAAs) have been misused and exploited in the past, to avoid paying any taxes – resulting in double non-taxation – and re-routing black money through tax havens for investment in India. The General Anti-Avoidance Rules (GAAR) have also been adopted by the government, extends to deny double taxation avoidance benefits if deals in tax havens are found to be avoiding taxes.

The Union Budget has announced a few new laws to address financial crime – one for confiscation of property of economic offenders and another to deal with illicit deposit schemes. India will start exchanging information with other countries, and receive information regarding Indian citizens’ assets abroad starting September 2017, on an automatic and periodic basis.

Still, economists are penciling in a federal fiscal deficit of 3.3 percent of GDP for 2017/18. That would be higher than the 3 percent pledged earlier but lower than 3.5 percent that the government has budgeted for the year soon to end.

While opinions vary on how long the disruptions caused by Modi’s crackdown on untaxed and illicit wealth will last, there is near unanimity among economists that Asia’s third-largest economy needs a helping hand.

The issue of combating black money was not given proper thoughts. The budget speech did not draw attention to a number of initiatives taken by the government in the past few months to curb the menace of tax avoidance.

Government of India should seek to address these loopholes in the norms of international taxation at the national level, while simultaneously support the establishment of a representative and well-resourced global tax body under the auspices of the UN.

Observation

India acclaimed to be a “bright spot” in the world economy, and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley repeated the same as he unveiled his annual budget, adding that the impact on growth from the government’s cash crackdown would wear off soon.

The BJP government’s budget has kept in pace with the economic policy of India for the last many years since the large scale privatization cum divestment program during the Congress reign with Manmohan Singh as finance minister to promote WB and IMF polices, to release the money of the state sectors for use by the private compote lords and global multinational magnets to increase their own wealth instead of taking care of welfare programs of common men.

The BJP budget this year was a usual one and as former finance minister Chidambaram said there are no real high lights. Those who had expected relief for those who suffered as Modi imposed demonetization without adequate preparation too launch his pet financial dream of ending black and other dirty money in the country. Now it is clear that the black money is here to stay no matter what measures the government adopt mainly because they only corporate lords who control the government want all these dirty cash circulation so that they could make more profits- after the objective of all governments – both elected and electionless – serve the cause of the rich and corporate lords and for which, unfortunately, common people vote a party to power.

The worst of the cash crunch is now almost over, leaving behind a shaky nation, and the government expects it to be fully cleared by the end of April. A private manufacturing survey showed business is slowly returning to normal. Still, the finance ministry forecasts that growth could dip to as low as 6.5 percent in the current fiscal year to March, before picking up slightly in the coming fiscal year to between 6.75 and 7.5 percent. That is below the target rate of 8 percent or more that PM Modi needs to create enough jobs for the 1 million young Indians who enter the workforce in India – a nation of 1.3 billion where half the population is below the age of 25.

The BJP which, like the Congress party, promotes the rich and corporate lords to sponsor cricket and IPL type joint sport exercise to keep the people under illusions, pursues the congress policies by keeping in view the goals of World Bank and IMF, denying subsides and freebies to poor and under privileged- thereby they want to remove the poor classes altogether and increase the illegal wealth of the rich. That is basic of capitalism that fuels wars of imperialism for acquiring more resources- now energy resources of West Asia.

The merging of the Railway Budget with the general budget was done seamlessly and was touted as a historic move, ridding us of the colonial era practice of separate budgets. However, the rationale for merging the railway budget with general budget this year as a new experiment has caused confusion as a separate budget for rail steadily raised the facilities and working of the sector, increasing rails and spending more resources year by year. Unlike other transport sectors, railways have achieved great strides over years and rail system today is not what it was say 10 years back. As the largest employment sector railways is also the cheapest mode of transport in India.

The nation expected the finance minister and PM Modi to give details of demonetization efforts of the fo government giving a brief about the amount of black money it should get and what are the new techniques being employed to tackle this grave anti-national mischief by liquor-cricket bosses like Mallya- a BJP MP with links everywhere especially with cricket bosses and other corporate lords. The Modi government refuses to take the people into confidence on demonetization.

Perhaps, the intentions of the government to guide the country onto the path of inclusive growth are clear. While there will always be some misses and hits in the budget, the Modi Government, unlike the Congress and even Vajpayee governments that religiously promoted corruption and black money as their key policy, has shown the political will to fight corruption and black money, which have become strong appendages of our economy.

Taxes the major revenues for the governments but the Modi government is eager to be sympathetic to big business houses with tax rebates. The minister’s roadmap in the FY-2015 budget promised to reduce the corporate tax rate to 25% within four years, even after three years.

In a difficult year, represented by growing global uncertainties, lower economic growth at home and increasing oil and commodity prices, the finance minister has done to sticking to the fundamentals and doing what is good for the economy, rather than for the vote bank.

While avoiding populist measures and focusing on investment activities that have a multiplier effect, Arun has also tried to garner additional resources through higher tax compliance, rather than higher tax rates. In fact, contrary to popular expectation, the definition of long term capital gains for property transactions was brought down to two years from three years.

Dr. Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff is a columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics. He is an expert on Mideast affairs, as well as a chronicler of foreign occupations and freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.). Dr. Ruff is a specialist on state terrorism, the Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA), commentator on world affairs and sport fixings, and a former university teacher. He is the author of various eBooks/books and editor for INTERNATIONAL OPINION and editor for FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES; Palestine Times.

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