Budget 2018: Jaitley’s final budget takes a rural turn

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Agri, infra, health and education are front and center; FM Arun Jaitley breaks from tradition delivering parts of the budget in Hindi

Bangalore, Feb 1, 2018: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley delivered the final full budget of the Modi administration on Thursday. Jaitley delivered a rural-focused budget increasing the minimum support price of all Kharif crops and scrapping taxes completely on farmer producer organizations.

The government in its budget increased the disinvestment target to Rs 80,000 crore for the financial year 2018-19, an increase of 10 per cent over the current year’s target. Other notable announcements included a universal healthcare scheme that will cover 50 crore people, free gas connections for 8 crore people, and expansion of airport capacity by five times.

Jaitley announced a slew of measures to boost the agriculture sector. The minimum support price (MSP) of all Kharif crops will be increased to 1.5 times the production cost. The government plans to spend Rs 14.34 lakh crore on rural infrastructure across several schemes. The total credit to agriculture has been set at Rs. 11 lakh crore for the 2019 financial year. Also, farmer-producer organizations will not have to pay taxes for five years.

Education was also front and center in the budget. The government will set up 24 new government medical colleges will be established across the country. Eighteen new schools of planning and architecture are to be set up at the Indian Institutes of Technologies (IITs) across the country. These schools will act as autonomous institutions within the IITs.

An integrated B.Ed programme is to be initiated to improve the quality of teachers. Sophia, a Psychology teacher at Mount Carmel College, Bangalore said, “it is a good move by the government. Although, we are not sure how well it would be implemented given the shoddy implementation of schemes in general. If implemented properly with the use of technology it can be a real game changer. But, there needs to be an entrance exam for getting into the integrated programme.”

The airline industry was a big winner in infrastructure. Jaitley said the airport capacity is to be increased by five times—there are currently 124 airports in the country. The Airports Authority of India will also aim for a billion trips a year. Jaitley said six crore toilets have been built so far under the Swachh Bharat campaign. The target for the next financial year is to build another two crore toilets

Healthcare has been given a lot of importance in the Union Budget as the Finance Minister announced two new initiatives in the under the Ayushman Bharat Program. But experts and doctors are not sure if this is enough to improve the healthcare system in the country.

Dr. Veeranna of the Indian Medical Association said, “I know the government thinks it has done a great job by providing Rs 500 to Tuberculosis patients but this is certainly not enough to improve the condition of healthcare in the country.” Dr. Preeti Shankar a General Physician  with Apollo Clinic Indiranagar said, “ These initiatives are of no use unless the government can implement them.”

Healthcare also saw the introduction of a universal healthcare initiative. The government plans to provide Rs. 5 lakh per family for medical reimbursement under National Health Protection Scheme. Jaitley said 50 crore poor people will benefit from this initiative which will be the world’s largest health protection scheme.

Given the spike in pollution levels in Delhi special schemes will be carried out in and around Delhi to tackle air pollution. And, a subsidy will be provided for the removal of crop residue in order to contain pollution due to stubble burning.

There was no change in income tax slabs for individuals. The corporate tax rate has been cut down to 25 per cent for companies with an annual turnover up to Rs. 250 Cr benefitting the MSME sector. The customs duty on mobile phones has been raised to 20 percent from 15 percent making phones more expensive for the consumer.

In a blow to cryptocurrency investors and exchanges in the country, the government said all cryptocurrencies are illegal tender. “Government to take all steps to eliminate the use of cryptocurrencies which are being used to fund illegitimate transactions,” said Jaitley.

The budget comes ahead of eight state polls to be held later this year, and four more in the first half of 2019 followed by the general elections.

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