The Union Budget 2014-15 presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the Parliament on Thursday seemed to have disappointed on the fronts of tax exemption, while it has brought cheer to domestic industries because of cut on custom duties. It has put a large focus on the youth of the nation, with the Finance Minister announcing several skills and development programmes as well as more educational institutions. The Budget also gave substantial attention to pressing problems of women's safety in the country as well as the issue of climate change, suggesting measures in those directions.
Here are some of the main highlights of the Union Budget 2014-15:
Marginal Tax Relief - Jaitley announced a rise in tax exemption limit by ₹50,000, taking the tax exemption cap from ₹2 lakh to ₹2.5 lakh, much below the expectations of the middle class, which at least hoped for an exemption up to ₹3 lakh. Jaitley raised tax exemption limit for investment under Section 80C by the same amount to take it to ₹1.5 lakh. Similarly, tax exemption on home loans was raised from ₹1 lakh to ₹1.5 lakh. Rate of surcharge and education cess remain the same.
Urban Infrastructure and Development – The Modi government's thrust on development and infrastructure was highlighted in the Budget, and Jaitley announced more than ₹7,000 crore to develop 100 Smart Cities, a plan that Modi had underlined in his election manifesto. Apart from these 100 smart cities, the government has also announced 'Industrial Smart Cities' in seven states.
Jaitley also announced an additional ₹50,000 crore for infrastructure development in urban areas, including transport and sanitation.
Opening Defence, Insurance to Investment – The government opened the Defence Sector to foreign direct investment (FDI) by raising the FDI cap in defence to 49 percent, with an objective of taking the country from being the largest importer of arms to being the largest manufacturers. This move is likely to make several foreign governments happy, as million-dollar arms deals are in the pipeline.
Apart from defence, the government has also allowed FDI up to 49 percent in the Insurance sector.
Boost for Businesses – Jaitley announced ₹10,000 crore fund for start-up firms, and promised to set up an investor-friendly system for e-businesses. He also brought cheer to domestic industries, particularly those manufacturing electronics, by ensuring their products are on par with imported goods.
Enabling Youth: A major focus of the new government in the Budget is on the country's youth; a force that Modi has time and again said needs to be galvanized. The government announced a 'Skills India Programme' to develop skills among youth and make them viable for employment opportunities, and also set aside ₹100 crore for its 'Young Leaders Programme.' It also announced five new IITs and IIMs each.
Women's Safety – For a nation riddled with unabated crimes against women, the government has taken serious steps in improving the safety of women. It has allotted ₹50 crore for women safety on public transport and has allotted ₹150 crore for the Home Ministry to ensure women's safety in larger cities. In order to promote education among girls, it has allotted ₹100 crore for its new scheme - 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana.'
Social Inclusion – The government has reached out to minorities, the differently-abled and the underprivileged through its Budget. Jaitley announced ₹100 crore for the modernization of madrassas, and announced facilities such as aids, appliances, and a dedicated sports center for the differently-abled. Jaitley said the government would bring out currency notes with Braille inscriptions for the visually-challenged. He also promised ₹200 crore to support entrepreneurs from the Scheduled Classes.
Green Budget – The government seems to have taken up the responsibility of addressing environmental issues of the time in its budget, especially the imminent issue of climate change. Stating the present climate condition as a major concern for the government, Jaitley announced ₹100 crore for the National Adaptation Fund. The government also announced 'Ultra modern' solar power projects for ₹500 crore, and ₹400 crore scheme for solar-powered agriculture. It has also kept aside ₹100 crore for promoting renewable energy across the country.
Modernization of Defence Sector – Jaitley, who also serves as the Defence Minister, said that modernisation of the Armed Forces was critical, and announced an increase in the capital outlay for defence by ₹5,000 crore. He has also allotted ₹100 crore to support technological development for the Armed Forces. "In order to strengthen border security infrastructure, ₹2,250 crore has been set aside," Jaitley said during his speech.
Overall, the government has allotted ₹2.29 lakh crore to the defence sector. Finally, he also announced the long pending 'One Rank, One Pension' policy.
Health and Cleanliness - Cleanliness seems to be an important prerogative of the Modi government, and it has promised to provide sanitation to every house by 2019 under its 'Swach Bharat Abhiyan' scheme. Jaitley also announced Free Drugs and Diagnostic Services to boost the health services in the country, and announced four more AIIMS institutions and 12 more Government Medical Colleges in the country.
Regional Focus - The Budget gave special attention to several states and regions in the country. Jaitley announced ₹1,000 crore to set up a good rail connectivity with the North eastern states and the rest of the country, announcing ₹100 crore more for promoting commercial organic farming in the region. To tackle the current problems of power and water supply in the capital state of Delhi, the government has set aside ₹200 crore for power reforms and ₹500 crore for water reforms in Delhi. The government also allocated ₹500 crore for displaced Kashmiri migrants.