Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday, February 1, presented his fifth Union Budget. The announcement comes at a time the country is gripped with sluggish economic growth. There’s also a lot of distress amongst farmers and the fiscal situation is quite dire. Amidst all this, Jaitley also had to keep in mind that eight states face elections this year and there’s also the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. As always, the finance minister has to juggle between the country, farmers, women and rural areas.
It has been widely speculated that economic growth has reduced thanks to the implementation of the GST and demonetisation. However, investors have reportedly looked beyond the drawbacks and thought of these measures as a positive outcome for the long term.
Here are a few highlights for the Union Budget 2018:
1. There has been no changes in terms of the income tax slabs for individuals. However, every salaried person is entitled to a standard deduction of Rs 40,000 on their income in lieu of transport and medical reimbursements.
2. The government will promote affordable housing and the Kisan credit card facility will be extended to fisheries as well as sectors for animal husbandry. According to Jaitley, over six crore toilets have been built under the Swachh Bharat scheme and the government plans to build another two crore.
3. More focus on education through digital means. The government plans to make a move forward from the blackboard to digital boards. Jaitley announced that new schools will be set up for architecture and planning sectors, there will be 18 more in ITTs and NIITs. A total of Rs 4.6 trillion has been sanctioned under the MUDRA Scheme.
4. 1 crore houses are to be built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in several rural areas and the government is all set to put up housing funds under the National Housing Bank.
5. Healthcare will move up to a new high. The budget for health, education and social security has been hiked from Rs 1.22 trillion to Rs 1.38 trillion. The government plans to launch the National Health Protection Scheme under which 10 crore poor families will receive benefits of about Rs 50 crore.
6. Cryptocurrencies are not legal tenders. The government plans to eliminate the use of Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin but will encourage the use of Blockchain technology for digital payments. It is not clear if such transactions will be subjected to GST or not.7. Infrastructure upgrade. The finance minister announced that Rs 50 trillion is required for building up the country’s infrastructure. National Highways covering 9,000 kms are planned for completion. Trains and stations to see improvements with the installment of wifi, CCTVs, a focus on safety and maintenance of railway tracks. Easy internet access will be provided to rural areas will the installment of 5 lakh wifi hotspots.
8. Aadhaar will have more reach. Businesses will have unique identification IDs.
9. Salaries for the President, VP and MPs revised. The President will now be paid Rs 5 lakh per month and the Vice President will be paid Rs 4 lakh. Governors will receive Rs 3.5 lakhs a month. A new law will be set up for MPs that automatically revises the salaries every five years based on inflation levels.10. The new budget allows eight crore free gas connections for poor women. Jaitley also announced that the government will contribute 12% for the Employee's Provident Fund for three years for new employees.