Published Editorial

Budget 2017 - A bundle of expectations

January 2017

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The Economic Times

By

Surabhi Marwah
Tax Partner, People Advisory Services, EY India

After the historic announcement of demonetisation on 8 November 2016 the, common man is now awaiting “acche din” and is looking forward to the Finance Minister (“FM”) presenting the Union Budget 2017 (“Budget”) with a heightened expectation of rebates, benefits and sops in the form of tax breaks. Expectations of benefits being doled out in the Budget are very high, way higher than those in 2014. Let’s look at some areas which the FM may tweak.

The tax rates/ slabs were last changed in the Financial Year 2014-15.The FM may enhance the same this year. Some changes in tax rates and slabs for an individual taxpayer below the age of 60 years may be as under:

Expected tax rates
Income (INR) Tax Rate (%)
   
0 to 400,000 NIL
400,001 to 1,000,000 10%
1,000,001 to 2,000,000 20%
2,000,001 and above 30%
Existing tax rates
Income (INR) Tax Rate (%)
   
0 to 250,000 NIL
250,001 to 5,00,000 10%
5,000,01 to 1,000,000 20%
1,000,001 and above 30%
 

The existing exemption limit of INR 300,000 for senior citizens (60 years to less than 80 years) and INR 500,000 for super senior citizens (80 years and above) could be enhanced to INR 400,000 and INR 650,000 respectively.

Salaried employees enjoy exemption from tax on certain allowances/ benefits that the employer provides. However, these limits were fixed a long time ago and are somewhat archaic given that they not been revised keeping in mind inflationary rises. It is likely that the FM will tweak these limits (as set out below). A welcome change would be linking the limits with the cost of inflation for maximum perception of benefits:

Allowance/ benefits Existing limits Proposed limits
Children education allowance INR 100 per child/ month INR 1,000 per child/ month
Conveyance allowance INR 1,600 per month INR 5,000 per month
Medical reimbursement INR 15,000 per annum INR 50,000 per annum
House rent allowance 40% of salary for non-metro cities 50% of salary (on par with metros)
Leave travel allowance Allowed only for travel within India It should be extended for travel outside India, with a maximum cap of INR 100,000 in a year. Also the cap of availing the LTA as tax exempt twice in a block of 4 years should be removed and this benefit should be made annual and preferably on a fiscal year basis

Another view keeping in view a simple and straight forward tax structure could be to do away with the various exemptions provided and reintroduce the standard deduction. The deduction could be fixed at INR 50,000 to INR 100,000 depending on the salary earned.

In order to achieve the objective of ‘housing for all’ and the new incentives announced by the Prime Minister on the eve of the New Year, it is expected that there could be an increase in the deduction available for housing loan from the existing INR 200,000 on self- occupied house property to INR 500,000. The FM also could extend the benefit of the additional interest deduction of INR 50,000 for loans sanctioned for residential house property under section 80EE from March 2017 to March 2018.

Additionally, the FM may revisit the eligibility of availing deduction of pre-construction interest and allow the deduction in the year of incurrence rather than over a period of 5 years from the completion of the house property.

The FM may increase the limit of deduction under section 80C of the Income tax Act, 1961 from INR 150,000 to INR 300,000. This will give an impetus to household savings and divert it into growth avenues such as insurance, equity, retirement funds etc. The aim is to really boost the India growth story and this is an important measure towards achieving our targets

The Government has in the past budget provided several incentives for taxpayers to invest in the National Pension System ("NPS”). The FM may continue the same push for NPS by increasing the deduction under section 80CCD (1B) to INR 100,000 from the existing INR 50,000. Further, it is also expected that NPS will be brought at par with the Employees Provident Fund or Public Provident Fund with respect to exemption of100% of the accumulated balance on withdrawal, subject to certain conditions (EEE regime). Currently, NPS is subject to income tax under the EET regime and withdrawals are taxed to the extent of 60 per cent (a change made in the last budget)

The government has reiterated the importance of the infrastructure industry several times in the last year and to make good their ambitious target it is likely that the Government may reintroduce the deduction of INR 20,000 or actual amount invested, whichever is lower for investments made in infrastructure bonds. This will boost spending in this sector and make their plans really count.

Taxpayers save for their children’s future education and other needs and sometimes in the name of the child. The income is clubbed with the parent’s income and a nominal amount of INR 1,500 is exempt. It is likely that the FM may revise the exemption limit to INR 10,000. 

Expectations are huge but the Finance Minister has a tough challenge ahead – maintaining the fiscal health of the economy and also managing the expectations of the people of the country. We are all waiting for February 1 with a flurry of hopes and our fingers crossed.