Friday, February 25, 2011

FM may raise tax exemption limit to Rs 2 lakh

NEW DELHI: With an eye on improving the public mood ahead of crucial polls in five states, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee appears set to appease the middle class as well as UPA`s aam aadmi constituency. 

An increase in the income tax exemption limit from Rs 1.6 lakh to Rs 2 lakh is expected to be part of Mukherjee`s Union budget speech on Monday. Though the exemption limit is Rs 1.6 lakh, this year, there is an additional benefit of Rs 20,000 for those who invest in infrastructure bonds. 

The benefit available for investment in these bonds is expected to continue though Mukherjee, who will present his third budget in his second innings in finance ministry, is unlikely to heed demands for a Rs 50,000 benefit for investment in these instruments. 

The veteran politician is also likely to announce a debt relief scheme for weavers who draw largely from the Muslim community and are a sizeable constituency in poll-bound Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, besides states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. 

The amnesty may cost the Centre Rs 3,400 crore and would be similar to the Rs 70,000-crore debt waiver scheme for farm loans which is said to have turned the tide for UPA in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. 

Heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi led a party delegation to Mukherjee on the weavers` scheme on Wednesday, lending weight to the demand. His authorship on the relief for minorities is part of an extended campaign for organisational revival in Uttar Pradesh which goes to poll next year. 

That powerloom and handloom weavers are also present in Tamil Nadu, which goes to polls in April, makes the proposed waiver a key election sop. It would be a magnet for the ruling DMK and textiles minister Dayanidhi Maran is learnt to have lobbied hard. 

Tax exemptions on cotton and silk yarns may add to weavers` relief. 

Congress circles are hoping that the budget will help beat down the perception of UPA`s decline, somewhat alleviate the pain of prices and turn people`s attention away from the scams that have eroded the goodwill that the Manmohan Singh regime enjoyed in 2009. 

The goodies will form part of Congress`s political outreach for key social groups in the backdrop of unrest over inflation. 

As per political calculations, the higher exemption limit may help blunt the pressure on the government from middle class which is weighed down by the burden of high inflation, which latest numbers put above 8%. Despite some moderation, food inflation remains above 11% and has upset monthly calculations for most households in the country.

Though the government could lose some revenue due to higher exemptions, the estimate is that higher growth will help rake in more revenue besides keeping fiscal deficit under check. 

Estimates suggest that the economy, despite the burden of higher interest rates and the spike in oil and metal prices, would grow at around 9%, helping the government to stay on course to achieve the fiscal deficit target of 4.8% of GDP
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