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India's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman holds up a folder with the Government of India's logo as she leaves her office to present the federal budget in the parliament, ahead of the nation's general election, in New Delhi, India, February 1, 2024. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

 

India’s Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the interim Union Budget on Thursday. With elections around the corner, an interim budget is presented to keep essential government operations funded until the newly elected government presents its full budget.

In this interim budget, Sitharaman focused on plans to boost infrastructure spending with expectations to drop fiscal deficit, tax incentives for strategically important growth sectors and improving taxpayer services, reforms in the renewable energy sector and a focus on next-generation technology.

Here’s what lawyers across the country thought about various aspects of the interim budget:

 

OVERALL OUTLOOK

Cyril Shroff, managing partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas:

“The recently released World Economic Outlook report of the IMF, calls India a bright spot and has increased our growth estimates. The Budget speech reaffirms and consolidates this growth trajectory. In keeping with constitutional and legal convention, the Budget did not make significant changes to tax or the policy regime. However, it had an important signalling impact. The references to next generation of reforms, continued focus on trade and investment and attention to sunrise sectors such as technology and the energy transition set the path for higher as well as better quality growth for the coming year. The decision to continue tax incentives for investments by sovereign wealth funds and pension funds and those available to startups provides certainty and predictability. The procedural changes to the tax regime also facilitate streamlining and will have a multiplier impact. The withdrawal of older disputed tax demands similarly affords clarity to taxpayer and will give a more real picture of public accounts. Within the constraints of the present budget, the finance minister has hit all the notes of growth, policy and tax certainty and being poised for continued reform. “

 

ON DIRECT TAX

S. Vasudevan, executive partner, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan:

“As highlighted by the Hon’ble Finance Minister in her speech, there are no major policy changes from direct tax perspective. In few cases, the cut-off date has been extended from 31st March, 2024 to 31st March, 2025 for availing certain exemptions/ tax concessions. This includes the last date for incorporation of companies/ LLPs to qualify as eligible startup for tax exemption under section 80-IAC, window in which specified investments made by certain offshore sovereign wealth funds/ pension funds qualified for tax benefits and cut-off date for setting up of offshore banking units or other units in IFSC to qualify for tax exemptions on certain specified income. Interestingly, there is no extension of time limit for commencement of manufacturing operations by new companies intending to claim concessional tax rate of 15% under section 115BAB.”

Rubal Bansal Maini, partner, Luthra and Luthra Law Office:

“Amongst other things, a proposal to withdraw the pending disputed direct tax demands up to Rs. 25,000 upto Financial Year 2009-10 and upto Rs. 10,000 for Financial Years 2010-11 to 2014-15 has been made. This will relieve about 1 crore tax payers from the long drawn pending income tax litigation. This is another step by the government to reduce income tax litigation in the country!”

Sumit Bansal, partner, S&R Associates:

“Considering this was an interim budget, the expectations were low-key. Although certain amendments were expected such as standardization of withholding tax rates, consistency in classification of capital assets as long-term or short-term, increase in the standard deduction limits etc. however these have not made it to the table. Otherwise, it is a stable budget, the tax rates remain unchanged and sunset for certain tax exemptions for IFSC, start-up units and recognized sovereign wealth funds/ pension funds is proposed to be extended - these are encouraging steps towards enhancing investor confidence and attracting capital.”

Ankit Jain, partner, Ved Jain & Associates:

“Given the fact that this was an interim budget, the Finance Minister, Ms N Sitharaman, refrained from making any changes in respect of taxation, be it income tax, customs or other import duties. This means that the tax rates will remain unchanged, no new exemptions or dedcutions either. It will be a little disappointing to the middle class as they were expecting some relief on taxation.”

Alay Razvi, Partner, Accord Juris LLP, Hyderabad:

“Changes in tax rates and exemptions were expected. Nevertheless, the same tax rate has been retained. Lower tax rates for the start ups and new manufacturing industries will give a boost to the entrepreneurs.”

 

ON INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING

L Viswanathan, partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas:

“The focus on infrastructure continues with impetus on transportation projects which have a catalyst effect on the economy. The railway program, expansion of airports and metro rail projects will help in improving connectivity, ensuring reach of goods and services to different parts of India and decongest our urban centres. The housing scheme for middle class should give impetus to the real estate industry. Focus on tourism will help in development of tourism industry and create economic impact.”

Ajay Sawhney, partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas:

“Capex outlay for next year increased by 11.1% undoubtedly represents that the growth momentum will continue, considering this is an election year. This increase is coming from a position of confidence. Infrastructure spending has a higher multiplier effect across the ecosystem and is a must to continue reviving demand in the economy. I believe the announcement is positive bearing in mind that intention also was to maintain fiscal discipline.”

Jaideep Singh Khattar, Partner, The Fort Circle:

“The budget suggests a substantial rise in infrastructure spending, aiming to boost the country's economic growth and generate numerous job opportunities. This proactive step is highly appreciated and showcases the government's commitment to advancing its Governance, Development, and Performance (GDP) agenda.”

 

ON CUSTOMS DUTIES

Nupur Maheshwari, partner, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan:

"In the Interim budget, there is no change in the existing rates of customs duties. The Government, in line with its ‘make in India’ initiative and with a special focus on MSME, has proposed to extend the customs duties exemptions which were expiring in March 2024 till 2025."

 

ON ENERGY TRANSITION

Shri Venkatesh, managing partner, SKV Law Offices:

“The Interim Budget tabled by Mrs Sitharaman comes as a bright ray of hope for the renewable and new energy sectors in India in as much as the installations of rooftop solar panels will not only help to cater the goal of ‘Muft Bijli’ (upto 300 units per month) but will also lead to savings of Rs. 15,000 to 18,000 in the process. Further, the introduction of the Viability Gap Funding for harnessing shore-wind energy potential to achieve production of 1 GW wind energy will act as a catalyst for the growth of the Wind Energy Sector in India.”

Rashmi Deshpande, founder, Fountainhead Legal:

“While in the past years, the Government has announced schemes promoting EV manufacturing sector, charging infrastructure lacked support. Thankfully, the recent budget announcement addressed this gap. This paves the way for a sustainable and long-term EV ecosystem within the country. This announcement holds the potential to attract new entrants and fresh players along with MSMEs to contribute to the EV revolution. However, it's necessary to ensure clearly defined eligibility criteria for applicability of such scheme considering the recent disputes around the FAME subsidy.”

Tabrez Malawat, partner, The Guild Advocate and Associate Counsel:

Another important impetus has been to the battery energy storage systems which will get foundational support in form of viability gap funding which would act as great leap for the development of important segment of green energy and shall address the intermittent character of the green energy which has been the key hindrance in the usage of green power to meet power requirements of the peak hours.

 

ON GIFT CITY INCENTIVES

Monark Gahlot, partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas:

“The budget announcement on extension of tax benefits to funds relocating to IFSC GIFT city till March 31, 2025 in addition to recent measure enabling direct listing of Indian companies at GIFT-IFSC exchanges etc shall all combine to increase attractiveness for GIFT city and fuel growth”

Kunal Savani, partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas:

“Budget 2024 has ensured that the tax emptions/tax holidays available vis-à-vis GIFT IFSC continue to be available. Accordingly, the FM has proposed to extend the sunset clause contained in these beneficial provisions to March 31, 2025. This will ensure that non-availability of tax emption/tax holiday does not throw a spanner in the works and GIFT IFSC continues to attract foreign investment.”

Roopal Bajaj, partner, Singhania & Co:

The income tax exemptions provided to IFSC units proposed to be continued for ensuring necessary impetus to the GIFT IFSC ecosystem. The proposals underscore the government’s unwavering support for long-term sustainability and growth of GIFT IFSC.

 

ON DEEP TECH

Monark Gahlot, partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas:

“The budget announcement on launch of new scheme for deep-tech technologies will not only boost the already growing tech-based startup sector but also pave the way for opportunities in the defence sector.”

 

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