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Union Budget 2011: Our Wishlist

Feb 18, 2011

Governments come and go. But their visions outlined in the annual fiscal planning (the Union Budget) have a long lasting impact on the economy. The Budget of 1992 was one such document. It was a threshold that set India on a superior economic growth path. The first Union Budget of the current decade also comes to meet several challenges. It should not just counter risks within and outside the economy. But it needs to also fortify India's position amongst global heavyweights.

Here is Equitymaster's wishlist for the upcoming Budget, which we hope will be announced keeping in mind the country's social and economic pitfalls.

  • Higher short term capital gains tax for FIIs: The volatility in Indian stock markets over the past six to nine months can to a large extent be attributed to fickle mindedness of the FIIs. Loose monetary policies in developed markets have not helped either. Hence, a stricter policy to curb short term capital gains earned with the hot money is in order. While the DTC has proposed to tax all FIIs, the current budget should lay a foundation for the same by hiking the taxes on short term gains.

  • Incentivise low income housing: The construction sector is unlikely to have a very peaceful fiscal ahead. Low bank funding and high interest rates could stall projects and build up inventory in the sector. Allowing higher fiscal incentives on low income housing loans could address the problem of high cost for the houses as well as offer a solution to builders to increase sales.

  • Incentivise long term investment in equities: Institutional investors such as insurance companies, PFs and mutual funds should be offered fiscal incentives on their schemes wherein investments are locked in domestic equities for 5 years and above. This could help draw more retail savings into equities for a longer term.

  • Pool in private sector funds for infrastructure investments: Floating SPVs that can pool in private funds for meeting the 12th and 13th Five year plan targets may be an ideal way to meet the funding gap. Especially given that the contribution from the private sector is seen going up from 30% in the Eleventh 5-Year Plan to 50% in the Twelfth Plan.

  • Deepen India's corporate debt market: Developing a vibrant corporate debt market is paramount to serving the long term funding needs of corporates. The Budget should initiate policies in this direction so that retail participation in corporate debt issuances becomes easier and more transparent . The debt papers also need to be rated to suit investors' risk profiles.

  • Rejig subsidies and off balance sheet items: An increase of 245%! This is exactly how much the cost of major subsidies has gone up in India in the last five years. And mind you, this does not even include oil. In CAGR terms, it amounts to a huge 28%. When one considers India's nominal GDP growth rate of 14%-15%, it quickly becomes clear that such a growth in subsidy is not sustainable at all. Fortunately, the Government seems to have woken up to this fact. Hence, rather than trying to increase subsidies further, it is now looking to reduce pilferage in the system. As a big step towards the same, it has set up a task force to create a way to directly transfer cash to the ultimate beneficiaries of various subsidy schemes. We believe in addition to reducing indirect subsidies, investing more in warehouses and logistics could help keep the food prices in India under control to an extent.
While this wishlist may not be all encompassing, policies in these directions will certainly help the government make better use of Indian tax payers' money. At the same time, these may address some of the issues threatening to thwart India's long term economic potential.

Over to the Finance Minister!

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