If the current political indicators are anything to go by, the interim budget to be presented on February 17 may spring some surprises.
Normally, no significant tax proposals or economic policy decisions are announced in the interim budget, but this time round, expectations are that gold import curbs may see some relaxation and additional sums allocated for certain social sector welfare programmes.
This, however, will not be against the convention, as there is no constitutional restriction on the Government. Besides, various measures such as hiking the import duty to 10 per cent or the 80:20 schemes are executive decisions and no Parliamentary approval is required. Expectations on a possible announcement on gold gathered momentum after National Advisory Council Chairperson Sonia Gandhi asked the Centre to look into the matter.Current account
This was followed with the Finance Minister P Chidambaram expressing confidence that by the end of the fiscal year the Government will be able to revisit some of the restrictions on gold imports. Since the current account deficit is expected to be below $45 billion, almost half of $88 billion recorded in 2012-13, this may help the Government to ease some of the curbs. Bullion and jewellery traders are also pressing for some relaxation as the restrictions, imposed since August last year, are also leading to a rise in smuggling. The budget could also see additional allocation for some social sector welfare programmes. This is possible as the Finance Minister is likely to report a fiscal deficit of anywhere between 4.6 and 4.7 per cent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), lower than the budget estimate of 4.8 per cent. This reduction will provide some room for the Minister to increase the allocation.Expenditure concerns
The interim budget is presented when Government of the day is unable to present an annual financial statement for the coming fiscal year (April 1-March 31) either due to General Election or some other compelling reasons. Usually, this is just a statement of the Government’s achievements, revised estimate for the current year and budget estimate for the next fiscal . The new Government can revise the next year estimate in the full budget. Technically speaking, the interim budget must be approved by Parliament, for expenditure after March 31, since the previous full budget has already provided for expenditure till March 31 and the full budget will be presented only after a new Government is formed.
That is why the interim budget is also called Vote-on-Account. The Parliamentary approval is for expenditure for the next four months. The last interim budget, presented in 2009 by then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, did not see any new tax announcements.
However, the 2004 interim budgetby then Finance Minister Jaswant Singh did mention the Government’s commitment to extending fiscal benefits for many new schemes .