Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her officers on Thursday met representatives of India Inc and trade unions for pre-Budget consultations. While industrialists asked the Centre to take more steps to augment ease of doing business, trade bodies stressed minimum wages, an income-tax ceiling, and pensions.
Industry representatives, who included Bharti Enterprises Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal, Confederation of Indian Industry President Vikram Kirloskar, and Assocham President Balkrishna Goenka, asked officials to “create more freedom for industry to perform”.
The corporate leaders highlighted several issues, including income tax roadblocks coming in the way of mergers and acquisitions, or hobbling businesses.
“I have come here today to discuss only one thing — make doing business easy in the country. That was what my thrust was,” Mittal told media persons after the meeting.
“The idea is to create more freedom for industry to perform. The finance minister, with her associates and secretaries, received them (industry representatives) very well. What we look forward to in this Budget is that it unleashes the energy of Indian entrepreneurs to do more,” Mittal said.
Expressing similar views, Assocham President Balkrishna Goenka said for “ease of doing business, states had to play an important role” and last-mile issues were there and needed to be resolved. Kirloskar said: “We talked about ease of doing business, which is the issue concerning many industries.”
RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group head Sanjiv Goenka said the discussions “centred more around what can be done to stimulate growth, to facilitate the ease of doing business”.
“The finance minister and her team were extremely open to all suggestions,” Goenka said, adding that “this is the first time I have seen this kind of response from the government”.
On the current slowdown and its impact on capacity utilisation across many industries, Goenka said industry recognised that it could take up to four quarters before capacity utilisation reached its peak.
“We understand that, and that is the reality of the situation,” he said.
Industry representatives also recommended that the Centre reduce income tax for those who earned less than Rs 20 lakh a year so that there was more disposable income in the hands of consumers, and that interest rate transmissions should be speeded up.
“During the interactive session lasting over two hours, prominent industrialists spoke about improving the regulatory environment to safeguard investment through ease of doing business, increasing export competitiveness, reviving private investment, and kick-starting growth measures,” said an official statement after the meeting.
Earlier in the day, trade unions urged the government to provide a minimum wage of Rs 21,000 a month, a minimum pension of Rs 6,000 a month under the Employees’ Pension Scheme, and tax exemption on annual income of up to Rs 10 lakh.
The unions also raised concern over rising unemployment in the country, saying “employment generation has nose-dived in recent period”.
During the meeting, they suggested massive public investment in infrastructure, social sectors, and agriculture would generate employment and the Union Budget should give it a priority.
They demanded vacant posts in various government departments, including railways, public sector undertakings, and autonomous institutions, should be filled through fresh recruitment. They also suggested the ban on creating positions and mandatory reduction in government posts should be lifted.
Lodging their protest against fixed-term employment (FTE), the unions said the provision of FTE should be done away with, and the notification concerned should be rescinded. They also raised the issue of price rise, saying that the government should ban speculative forward trading in essential commodities and take steps to curtail hoardings along with strengthening the public distribution system.