DESPITE the backdrop of a Rs 76,965-crore shortfall in tax collections for FY14 and Rs 29,973 crore in disinvestment, finance minister P. Chidambaram managed to better market expectations by restricting the fiscal deficit to 4.6% of GDP (see graphic on how he managed this). The target for FY15 has been kept at 4.1% — expenditure will rise 10.9% versus FY14’s 12.5% — lower than the 4.2% the markets expected. As a result, the year’s borrowings target is Rs 4,57,321 crore versus FY14’s Rs 4,68,902 crore — bond yields fell marginally in response.
Sharp excise duty cuts — from 12% to 8% for small cars, scooters, motorcycles and commercial vehicles — were effected to stimulate demand, and both defence pensioners and students were targeted by specific incentives. In the case of defence pensioners, ‘one rank, one pension’ was formally agreed to, and an interest waiver of Rs 2,600 crore was given for 9 lakh student loans. At the end of trading, the automobile index was up 0.76% and the overall Sensex 0.48%. Chidambaram said the tax cuts could cost around Rs 800 crore in a full month in case this did not result in a sharp pick-up in automobile sales. For mobile phones, the cut in duties was even more dramatic, to 6% with Cenvat credit or 1% without Cenvat credit. Excise duties were cut from 12% to 10% for capital goods as well as consumer non-durables falling under Chapter 84 and 85 of the excise act.
Though an interim budget cannot announce too much by way of new policies, or direct tax changes, Chidambaram pointed out that while loans to minority communities stood at Rs 211,451 crore at the end of December 2013, annual lending had gone up from a mere Rs 4,000 crore a decade ago to Rs 66,500 crore in FY13.
Though the drop in tax collections was along expected lines, what came as a surprise was the complete collapse in disinvestment receipts since most had factored in Rs 17,000-18,000 crore of funds from the sale of the government’s residual stake in Hindustan Zinc and Balco. But, the expenditure secretary said,