The Union budget 2023-2024, being the last budget before the general election in 2024, was expected to be growth oriented with a large focus on manufacturing, infrastructure, capital expenditure, rural economy and progressive for the medium income households of the country. This expectation has not only been met but also, a much larger boost has been given by way of massive capital expenditure. The budget appears to take care of the taxpayer sentiments while ensuring continued impetus for enhancing business and employment growth in the country. A big emerging theme seen in this budget is 'Green Growth', focusing on transitioning India into a sustainable, net zero carbon emission economy by 2070. The key priorities of this budget as laid down by the Hon'ble Finance Minister are –

Inclusive Development – through providing support to economically weaker sections of society, women, youth, farmers, scheduled caste, scheduled tribes, OBCs and the underprivileged in the form of increased facilities primarily in the agricultural, health and education sectors.

Reaching the Last Mile – by launching several programs for saturation of essential government services, improving socio economic conditions of particularly vulnerable tribal groups and providing them educational opportunities, provision of financial assistance for drought prone areas in Karnataka, increasing the outlay for affordable housing, digitization of inscriptions and support for impoverished prisoners.

Infrastructure and Investment – by providing support to state governments in the form of interest free loans and increased assistance for private investment in infrastructure. Transport infrastructure projects will be undertaken and regional connectivity will be improved while ensuring that city planning is done in a sustainable manner. Desludging of septic tanks is proposed to be made 100% mechanical and the Urban Infrastructure Development Fund is proposed to be established to create infrastructure in tier 2 and tier 3 cities.

Unleashing the Potential – through good governance practices which includes skill development and enhancement, simplifying the KYC process, enhancing the operability of DigiLocker and ensuring Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) can utilize the same in a manner which promotes fintech services, creation of a unified filing process to provide data to different government agencies from one platform. An increased importance has been placed on incentivizing research and development of artificial intelligence for the purpose of solving issues in the health, agriculture and infrastructure sectors. Lab grown diamonds have been highlighted as an emerging sector and one of the key products with potential for high exports and vast employment potential.

Green Growth – through increased capital investments with the vision for net zero carbon emissions by the year 2070 and transition of the economy into one which is less dependent on imported fossil fuels. New renewable energy projects will be implemented, and PM-PRANAM will be launched to promote alternative fertilizers and balanced use of chemical fertilizers. Some of the other initiatives to be undertaken include establishment of waste wealth plants, mangrove plantation, increase in eco-tourism opportunities, promotion of coastal shipping and replacement of old government vehicles.

Youth power – facilitation of employment and opportunities for enhancement in sector specific skill development to secure both domestic and international employment has been significantly stressed on. An integrated approach to make tourism digitally accessible has been proposed whereby tourist experience can be enhanced through availability of relevant information on apps.

Financial Sector – by establishing a national financial information registry which will be a central repository to facilitate easy flow of information and promote financial inclusion. Financial sector regulations shall be amended in accordance with public considerations and the Banking Regulation Act, Banking Companies Act and the Reserve Bank of India Act will be amended as well. Several reforms have been introduced to simplify and promote GIFT IFSC, the legislation for which will also see amendments. A one-time small saving scheme has been introduced for women and the maximum deposit limit on both the monthly income account scheme and senior citizen scheme has been increased.

The fiscal deficit is estimated to be 5.9% of the GDP, to finance which the net market borrowings are estimated to be Rs. 11.8 Lakh Crore. The balance will be financed from small savings and other sources. Gross market borrowings are estimated at Rs. 15.4 Lakh Crore.

A significant introduction has been the change in tax slabs which ameliorate the burden of taxation on the substantial middle-class population in the country. These have been further elaborated in the taxation section.

The Union Budget 2023-2024 strives to attain a sustainable economy with amplified growth and resultantly increased employment. The focused modifications to the GIFT IFSC regime showcase an intention to promote foreign investment. This along with the reliefs provided to the MSME sector and the increased research and development opportunities further one of the key themes of this government, i.e., ease of doing business. This budget places India on a forward-looking path while taking into account the much needed reforms demanded by its citizens.

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