Eye on polls, Jaswant tries balancing act with interim budget; media/ent. industry ignored

NEW DELHI: We hate to say we told you so but we told you so. India's finance minister Jaswant Singh, hemmed in by the fact that full-fledged sops cannot be extended to people in an interim Budget even though his party colleagues have been pressuring him to do so, tried doing a balancing act.

And as far as the media & entertainment industry was concerned, there was hardly a passing mention.

Leaving the present income tax structure untouched, Singh announced some moral-boosting measures for various sectors of the industry and a large part of the vote bank, government employees.

Seeking a vote-on-account, the finance minister got some cheers for extending some tax exemptions in the business process outsourcing (BPO) segment, regarded the new sunshine segment, and held out the hope for the salaried middle class, another huge section of the vote bank, by saying that standard tax deductions would be "revisited." Was there a hint somewhere that the NDA should be voted back to power for the "revisit" to occur? Maybe, maybe not.

There was no reference to this segment of the industry. Unless the media and entertainment industry rejoices from the fact that he used the name of a TV show of yesteryears --- Mungeri Lal ke hasin sapne (Mungeri Lal's wishful thinking or day dreams) --- to drive home a point that Mungeri Lal's "dream is about to come true". Meaning that the average man's hopes would not be belied as he announced conventions halls, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (hospitals) in places like Bihar, some Central help for a canal project and, may be, the tax exemption in the BPO sector.

The only other reference Singh made to the entertainment sector was when he said that some conventions halls would be built in various cities, including Goa that is being targeted as a permanent venue for the International Film Festival of India.

The stock markets were not very impressed by this "Jassi's" (another doffing of the cap to the TV world in the tweaking of the fin min's name) performance, though the daily soap is setting the cash registers ringing for a particular channel.

The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Sensex, which opened on a buoyant note at 5,715.46 points, which itself was the day's high, later dipped to a low of 5,592.97 points after finance minister presented his interim Budget.

The Sensex was at 5,634.35 points at afternoon, showing a loss of 61.31 points from its weekend close of 5,695.67 points, wire agencies reported.

Among other breaks offered to the people are a cut in Central government stamp duties by up to 50 per cent. Also, up to 50 per cent of the dearness allowance (DA) of Central government staff would be merged with their basic salary.

The growth figures in the current year are encouraging. In fact he also stresses on the point that the GDP growth is expected to be 7.5 to 8 per cent in the current fiscal year. This level of growth is matter of great satisfaction, Singh said. Declining interest and buoyant Stock Exchange have set the economy moving, the agencies reported. On one point though, Singh appeared to be exercising creative licence with his numbers - that the fiscal deficit would be kept down to 4.8 per cent of GDP.

Singh also exempted foreign companies from imposition of tax in case the outsourced services were ancillary and auxiliary in nature and adequate remuneration was paid to the Indian call centre.

"It has been clarified that if outsourced services are ancillary and auxiliary in nature and adequate remuneration is paid to the Indian call centre, then there shall be no tax on such foreign company as has outsourced its activity to India", agencies, quoting the finance minister, said.

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