Opportunity to realise true potential, CNBC's post budget analysis forum verdict

MUMBAI: Did the fine print of the union Budget 2003-04 appear coarse after a week? Has the initial euphoria been replaced by skepticism once the finer details are revealed? CNBC's post Budget round table session was held at Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel immediately after CII's regional council meeting on 7 March 2003. CNBC will also telecast the same during the weekend of 14-16 March 2003 coinciding with Frames 2003.

The panelists included eminent industrialists, corporate head-honchos, bureaucrats and entrepreneurs such as Videocon group chairman Venugopal Dhoot, Dr Reddy's Labs chairman Dr Pratap Reddy, SBI Life Insurance MD and CEO R Krishnamurthy, Airfreight and DHL India chairman Cyrus Guzder, Ernst & Young managing partner Jairaj Purandare, Suraj Diamonds director Jatin Mehta, government of India's central board of excise and customs chairman MK Zutshi and Godrej & Boyce MD Jamshed Godrej.

CNBC Mumbai bureau chief Govindraj Ethiraj moderated the discussion. The session was presented by General Motors' Opel Vectra and SBI Mutual Fund in association with Microsoft and Daikin air-conditioners.

While describing the budget, the panelists included phrases such as "music to one's ears"; "fine balancing act"; "an opportunity to realise our true potential" and even a "don't feel too bad or too good"!

The following viewpoints were expressed by the panelists:

Government of India's central board of excise and customs chairman MK Zutshi 

* Apart from focusing on specific industry segments, the finance minister has taken a holistic view apart from kickstarting the generation of demand. The theory of indirect taxes is based on consumption - rationalization is a step in the chain. 

* The finance minister has recognized that the textile industry should be given its place of prominence alongside the agricultural industry. 

* The path for the post WTO (world trade organization) regime has been clearly charted out.

* The process of rationalization in customs and excise has been continued. The customs, excise departments will ensure that the procedures will be simplified and the taxation rates will be re-looked at regular intervals. However, we have to be realistic. 

* Proper valuation and assessment are the key to resolving disputes. The revenue service officers must avoid the trap of over-assessments in order to play safe ("When in doubt err on the revenue side" seems to the motto). The senior bureaucrats have started the process of specifying the parameters which will guide these junior officers.

Videocon group chairman Venugopal Dhoot 

* Overall, the budget has several feel-good factors but seems to be a case of fine expectation management.

* The excise duty hasn't been reduced in several cases despite the efforts of the concerned industry bodies.

* The finance minister hasn't adequately stressed the need for fiscal responsibility despite the fact that bill is ready and will be introduced in the parliament soon.

* The Budget is good for the consumer durables sector and prices will be dropped. 

* The interest rate reductions don't reach the retail consumers. Consumer finance schemes will benefit if the consumers get loans at 7-8 per cent.

Dr Reddy's Laboratories chairman Dr Pratap Reddy

* The finance minister has done a wonderful job by recognizing the true potential of the healthcare sector. 

* However, health-related infrastructure should get more get benefits and tax holidays. An amount of Rs 250 billion is needed for healthcare and if this investment is made then the government would lose a small amount but the entire country would gain. Foreign direct investment will also increase as companies will set up units in India. 

* The duty reductions on life-saving equipment and the emphasis on health insurance are positive steps.

* The budget has provided an impetus for healthcare in India to make an attempt to become the largest contributor to GDP as is the case in the developed economies.

* The tourism related concessions should also be extended to health-tourism.

Suraj Diamonds director Jatin Mehta

* The gems and jewellery industry is elated with the finance minister's concessions.

* However, some measures could have been taken to improve domestic consumption. Local jewelers must also be given a chance to participate and contribute to India's status as a future global giant in the business.

* India has a chance to become the central focal point for the global gems and jewellery industry. 

* The government must also introduce labour reforms and ensure participation of the workers belonging to the lower rungs of business.

Airfreight and DHL chairman Cyrus Guzder

* There are several questions which are unanswered - such as "Where will the funds come from?"; "fiscal responsibility"; "debt swaps and repurchase of high interest debts" amongst others

* The direction for fiscal responsibility has been given but the appropriate methodology hasn't been elaborated upon.

* The introduction of a uniform VAT (value added tax) from 1 April 2003 is significant and remarkable. Lots of loose ends need to be tied up and legislation changes in the states have to be effected. 

* The central government must ensure that the states refrain from introducing backdoor cess or other measures which will defeat the purpose of uniform VAT. 

* Currently, warehousing is done with an eye on the local state taxation levels rather than being customer-oriented. 

* The services sector depends on the manufacturing sector and it is not clear whether the manufacturing sector will grow. The finance minister hasn't addressed their needs and hasn't provided the required impetus.

Ernst & Young India managing partner Jairaj Purandare

* The finance minister has ensured that there is a change in the fundamental mindset 

* He has also ensured a trust based fiscal management approach which is less interpretational and more concerned with rationalization of taxation.

SBI Life Insurance MD and CEO R Krishnamurthy

* The tax on single premium policy (where the premium component is 20 per cent or more than the sum assured) is unfortunate. Globally, single premium policies are very popular and India too must make efforts in this direction.

* Tax exemption on pension schemes and health insurance would provide the requisite stimulus for growth and protection. 

* Health insurance is less than Rs 1 billion currently but has the potential to grow rapidly.

Bajaj Auto vice chairman M Bajaj 

* The media makes a mistake by viewing 28 February 2003 in isolation. The process of fiscal responsibility is an ongoing one. We need to rectify the mindsets.

* The mood is positive even after a week. 

* The finance minister must ensure that fiscal responsibility is maintained in order to ensure that the future generations don't suffer.

Madison Communications CMD Sam Balsara

* Since the last seven years, finance ministers have always ignored the advertising industry which has the potential to fuel demand and growth. 

* The advertising industry is 0.3 per cent of India's GDP whereas in developed countries, it is as high as 1.3 per cent. 

* Service providers can claim credit for input costs and this will benefit them. 

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