Tuesday, March 21, 2023

‘Halwa’ ceremony marks the final stage of budget

The customary ‘Halwa Ceremony’ to mark the beginning of the compilation and printing of documents related to the Union Budget for 2023-24 was held on Thursday at the Finance Ministry’s Budget Press inside North Block.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Union Minister of States for Finance Bhagwat Kishanrao Karad and Pankaj Chaudhary were present along with other senior officials of the finance ministry.
The ceremony marks the final stage of compiling the Union Budget. The finance minister begins the ceremony by stirring the halwa in the kadhai and then serves it to colleagues at the ministry’s headquarters in the national capital.
To maintain the secrecy of the Budget, there is a “lock-in” of officials involved in making the Budget. These officers and staff come out of the North Block only after the Budget is presented in the Parliament.
Last year, the customary ceremony did not take place for the first time in view of the health and safety concerns of people over Covid fears. Like the previous two Union Budgets, Union Budget 2023-24 will also be delivered in paperless form. The Union Budget 2023-24 is to be presented on February 1, 2023.
The Budget documents will be available on the “Union Budget Mobile App” on both the Android and Apple OS platforms after the completion of the Budget Speech by the Finance Minister in Parliament on February 1, 2023.
The formal exercise to prepare the annual Budget for the next financial year (2023-24) commenced on October 10.
Finance Ministry considering Sops for middle class
The finance ministry is considering proposals to benefit the middle class in its last full Budget of the Narendra Modi 2.0 government to be presented on February 1 in the Lok Sabha, reports ANI.
The finance ministry is looking into proposals sent by various government departments on specific steps which may be announced in the Budget, benefitting a large section of the middle class, sources said.
The government has not raised income tax exemption limit from ₹2.5 lakh which was fixed in 2014 by the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his first Budget.
Also, the standard deduction has remained at ₹50,000 since 2019. Several experts are of the opinion that the exemption limit as well as standard deduction need to be increased to compensate salaried middle class for elevated level of inflation.
The recent statement of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman that she was aware of pressures of the middle class has raised hope that some incentives may come for them in the upcoming Budget.
“I too belong to the middle class so I can understand the pressures of the middle class. I identify myself with the middle class so I know,” she had said earlier this month.
In the same breath, the minister reminded that the present Modi government has not imposed any fresh taxes on the middle class.
She said the government has taken various measures like developing the metro rail network in 27 cities and building 100 smart cities to promote ease of living. The minister gave the assurance that the government can do more for the middle class as its population is growing and it has become sizeable now.
“I quite recognise their problems. The government has done a lot for them and continue doing the same,” she said without making any commitment.
Besides tinkering with exemption limit and standard deduction, the finance ministry is also looking at the possibility of increasing limit under 80C which includes investment in life insurance, FD, bonds, housing and PPF, among others.
Payment towards medical insurance premium is also being looked at, sources said, adding, the government may simplify capital gains tax rules to benefit the middle class investors which have started investing in capital markets. The insurance industry has been pitching for a separate tax deduction provision for life insurance, tax waiver for annuity income, and higher deductions for health insurance premiums.
If there is an increase in the limit under 80C with special focus on the insurance segment, it will help push term insurance or other protection scheme, which can provide essential financial protection to the family in the event of an untimely death of the earning member, said Max Life Insurance MD and CEO Prashant Tripathy.


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