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Union Budget 2019 manages the numbers with a few surprises

While the speech has focused on the main thrust areas, benefits have been provided to specific sectors like affordable housing and electric vehicles

Madan Sabnavis 

Nirmala Sitharaman, Budget 2019
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman gestures as she leaves her office to present the federal budget in the parliament in New Delhi. Photo: Reuters

The Union Budget for financial year 2019–20 (FY20) has used the revised numbers for FY19 as the benchmark as against the accounts, which showed a smaller size of almost Rs 1.5 trillion to almost retain the budgetary numbers for the coming year with a marginal improvement in the fiscal deficit number to 3.3 per cent.

While the speech has focused on the main thrust areas, benefits have been provided to specific sectors like affordable housing and electric vehicles. It has kept most of the tax structures unchanged. Customs rates have been selectively increased and petrol and diesel are to cost more as this is an assured revenue stream for the government.

A major takeaway is the bank recapitalisation (bank recap) amount of Rs 70,000 crore that has been announced. However, this would be through the issuance of securities, which means that once again it will not be a part of the budget but an offering through the recap bonds route. The cost of such an exercise would be witnessed through the interest payments that have to be made over a period of time. The infusion of such capital is welcome, as it will help banks to lend especially so as six of the public sector banks (PSBs) have come out of the prompt and corrective (PCA) framework and would require capital to grow.

The semi guarantee being provided to PSBs for purchasing assets of non-bank finance companies (NBFCs) is a very good step. It sends strong signals that the government considers this sector to be important and that it is willing to support it directly through the Budget. This should help the market, which was getting jittery on account of lack of action here. This could be a precursor to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) also considering some other windows for lending, which has been a demand from this industry.

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The disinvestment scheme of Rs 1.05 trillion will probably be the highest and will help the government balance the budget, if successful. It also looks like the exchange traded funds (ETF) route will be preferred to drive home the benefit and to this end they have linked this with the ELSS schemes for investors to draw tax benefits.

The budget has been carefully drafted keeping in mind the constraints of commitments made in the interim document in terms of expenditure and the reality of growth trends. Hence, the borrowing programme of the government remains unchanged and hence the market should take heart at this. Also, in the absence of the RBI report on the use of reserves being out, there was limited scope to use the money for further expenditure. Total capex is just around Rs 20,000 more than that in FY19.

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However, there is an upward revision in the GDP growth number to 12 per cent. While this could be assumed to manage the budget numbers, it could also mean that with real growth expected to be no more than 7 per cent as per the Survey, there could be higher inflation of above 4 per cent. In this scenario, the talk of interest rates cuts should be reviewed, as the monsoon progress so far has also been less than satisfactory.

Views expressed are personal

First Published: Fri, July 05 2019. 14:13 IST