M A I N   N E W S

Another slew of sops from FM
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 4
The Lok Sabha today passed the Interim Budget with Finance Minister Jaswant Singh adding another appendix to the pre-election sop story through a slew of measures including the continuation of exemption on dividend distribution tax to open-ended equity oriented mutual fund schemes, a subsidy of Rs 8 per kg for tea growers and a Rs 100 crore fund for small scale industrial (SSI) units.

The Finance Minister also announced a 90 per cent reduction in service tax for travel agents and declared Nagpur as an international airport. It will be upgraded into an international airport with immediate effect.

Replying to the debate on the Interim Budget in the Lok Sabha today, Mr Singh said the dividend distribution tax on open-ended mutual should continue beyond the earlier period of March, 2004.

Similarly, the Finance Minister said the exemptions to long-term capital gains tax equity, should be continued for three more years beyond March, 2004.

However, since such a move would require an amendment to the Finance Act, Mr Singh promised to bring about the required amendments if the same government was voted back to power. “It is our conviction that the exemption will continue for a full year”, he said.

He clarified that the exemption on long-term capital gains from equity would be available for a year for those who buy equity after March 1, 2004.

The proposed fund (SIDBI growth fund) for the SSI units will have an initial corpus of Rs 100 crore and will be later enhanced to Rs 500 crore.

The fund, which will be created by April 2004, will primarily address the credit needs of SSIs in the areas of light engineering, bio-technology and software.

It will function in the form of a venture capital in order to encourage self-employment among small-scale entrepreneurship.

The subsidy of Rs 8 per kg for tea growers will come into effect immediately and will continue for four months.

The Finance Minister also abolished the 8 per cent excise duty, imposed in the last budget on woodless particles and fibre boards keeping in mind the environmental concerns.

The Finance Minister said the Agriculture Ministry will examine the report of the micro-irrigation task force headed by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and the scheme will be implemented after the recommendations were submitted by the Ministry. On the reduction in service taxes for tour operators, Mr Singh said the Central Board of Excise and Customs(CBEC), had been instructed not to insist on collection of old dues.

Making a point-by-point announcement of the scathing attack launched by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the Finance Minister said contrary to Mrs Gandhi’s observations, the country’s economy was robust.

The fiscal deficit had come down to an unprecedented level of 4.8 per cent of the GDP and this was attributable to several factors, including prudent expenditure management, higher revenues and better disinvestment proceeds.

The House passed the Interim Budget and the Finance Bill through a voice vote even as a dissatisfied Opposition staged a walkout.

Mr Singh, however, ruled out any reduction in agri subsidy as desired by many WTO member nations, including the EU and the US.

“We are not going to accept their advice,” he said adding that the NDA government was clear and there should not be any misgivings.


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