The Union Budget 2019 delivered by India’s first full-time woman finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman promises to be an all-round budget with a focus on rural as well as urban India. The budget not only aims at economic growth but also focuses on modernizing the country, developing infrastructure, providing the appropriate platforms for the youth and making things more convenient for the common citizens of our country.
The steps planned to ensure a hassle-free experience for foreign portfolio investors will create a well-founded platform to encourage more foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country and create a more conducive environment for foreign players looking to invest in our country.
Schemes such as Har Ghar Jal, Housing for All, Swachh Bharat Mission for solid waste management in every village and providing electricity connection with clean cooking facility by 2022 will not only help in developing rural India but also go a long way in alleviating poverty from our country, which has been a constant problem for decades now.
The fact that the government plans to bring in a new national education policy to transform India’s higher education system to one of the best education systems in the world, is a welcome initiative that has been long overdue. The youth of our country urgently need guidance and appropriate platforms to help them explore unconventional career opportunities.
Job creation has been an issue and the government has realized the need to look beyond traditional avenues of employment. Our country has an enormous potential for tourism and the government’s plans to develop 17 iconic tourist sites into world class tourist destinations, is a brilliant move. These iconic sites would enhance visitor experience, leading to an increase in domestic and international tourist visits. This will ultimately lead to a boost in employment opportunities.
Our country, by tradition, has been an agrarian economy and our farmers need to be protected. The government’s intent of going back to “zero budget farming" and setting up of new farmer producer organizations will help ease the highly stressed farming sector. The ease of doing business and ease of living for farmers are laudable initiatives, and should be taken further.
With an equal focus on urban India, the budget also aims at boosting infrastructure by increasing the connectivity of roads, water, air and railways.
The government also plans to create gas grids, water grids, i-ways and regional airports, which are urgently needed to boost trade and transport within the country.
Climate change continues to pose a huge risk to the planet. The budget has looked upon this aspect as well, by giving a boost to electric vehicles (EVs) with lower goods and services tax (GST) and tax incentives for purchase of EVs. The government’s aim to make the country a global hub of manufacturing of EVs is commendable. Increase in custom duty on gold and other precious metals from 10% to 12.5% is a step in the right direction to curb imports. We are hopeful that similar steps will also be taken to safeguard domestic industries such as aluminium, copper, iron ore and coal by raising import duties or correcting the inverted duty structure. The government also needs to focus more on under-the-ground exploration, not only to drive self-sufficiency and cut dependence on imports but also to propel the Indian economy towards the $10 trillion mark.
All in all, this has been a well-balanced, pragmatic and result-oriented budget with an aim to take our economy to $5 trillion in the next few years.
Anil Agarwal is executive chairman of Vedanta Resources Ltd.