India relaxes fiscal deficit, cuts taxes to spur growth
February 01 2020 01:57 PM
India's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is flanked by junior Finance Minister Anurag Thakur as s
India's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is flanked by junior Finance Minister Anurag Thakur as she arrives to present the budget in Parliament in New Delhi,

AFP/Mumbai

India relaxed its fiscal deficit target Saturday, raising spending and slashing taxes as it seeks to attract foreign investment and increase consumption in the wake of a prolonged economic slowdown.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the changes as part of the country's annual budget in parliament, a day after official data showed that Asia's third-largest economy grew five percent last year, its slowest expansion since the 2008 global financial crisis.
India's fiscal deficit target for the current financial year is now 3.8 percent of GDP from an earlier 3.3 percent, she said, adding it would edge down to 3.5 percent next year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing government has been trying desperately to revive the economy, which has flagged for several quarters, with per capita consumption falling for the first time in four decades.
The finance minister said Indians earning under 1.5 million rupees ($21,000) a year could pay lower taxes if they agreed to forego existing exemptions, with a view to raising their purchasing power.
Indian taxpayers are allowed to claim exemptions for a range of expenses, from medical insurance to investments, under a labyrinthine tax regime that Sitharaman has vowed to simplify during her tenure.
She also announced that companies would no longer have to pay dividend distribution tax, terming it a "bold move meant to attract foreign investors".
"Wealth creators will be respected in this country... and this government assures taxpayers they will not be harassed," she said in her second budget speech since Modi won a second term by a landslide last May.
The key agriculture sector will receive a cash infusion of 2.83 trillion rupees to help farmers set up solar power units and storage facilities.
Sitharaman said this would enable farmers, many of whom are burdened by crushing debts, to sell power to energy companies.
She also revealed New Delhi was seeking to shed its 100-percent stake in the country's largest insurer, Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), to generate revenue.
Earlier this week, the government also announced plans to sell its 100 percent stake in debt-crippled national carrier Air India after an earlier push to sell part of the airline found no takers.
Experts say India's state-run companies which manufacture anything from bicycles to condoms are a major drag on the economy due to their unprofitability, barring the government-owned enterprises in the coal sector.
New Delhi has said it expects the economy to recover soon, pegging growth at 6.0 to 6.5 percent for the financial year 2020-21.
But analysts said the budget was too piecemeal and failed to offer a clear roadmap for a possible revival.
"There is nothing dramatic or substantially new in the budget," said Ashutosh Datar, an independent economist from Mumbai.
"Given how constrained its finances are, government did not have fiscal legroom to maneuver," he told AFP.
Investors also appeared unimpressed, with Mumbai's Sensex index dropping over 2.5 percent in afternoon trade.



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