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PM Modi aims to woo voters with pre-election perks

NEW DELHI: The government has recently announced a series of measures to try to win over farmers, small business owners and the less well-off, after the BJP suffered setbacks in state elections and with a general election due in months.

The measures are likely to be a drain on finances in Asia’s third-biggest economy, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government is trying to stick to a decade-low fiscal deficit target of 3.3 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

But Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has promised even more perks ahead of the general election, which must be held by May.

“They will be for development, they will be for transformation,” Ravi Shankar Prasad minister for law, justice, and information technology, told parliament this week, referring to inducements for the electorate.

“Who wins or loses, the people will decide. We are confident when elections happen, the country’s public will again give a big majority to the ruling coalition led by Narendra Modi.”

Reuters reported this week that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) could transfer an interim dividend of Rs 30,000 crore-Rs 40,000 crore ($4.3 billion-$5.8 billion) to the government by March to help meet the fiscal deficit target as spending rises ahead of the election.

Following are steps the government has taken, in addition to proposals for farm-loan waivers worth billions of dollars after the main opposition Congress defeated the BJP in the agrarian states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in state assembly elections late last year.

Help for small businesses

The government on January 10 announced a change in national sales tax rules that would exempt an additional two million small businesses.

Businesses with annual sales of up to Rs 40 lakh ($56,700) will be exempt from the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Currently, firms with an annual turnover of up to Rs 20 lakh are exempt. The change will come into effect in April.

Help for farmers

Modi is considering three options for a relief package to help farmers suffering because of low crop prices at a cost of as much as Rs 3 lakh crore ($42.82 billion), according to three government sources. The possibilities are a direct payment to all landowning farmers, compensation for those who sold produce below government prices, and a loan forgiveness programme.

Job reservation

Parliament passed a landmark bill on Wednesday reserving 10 per cent of government jobs for people outside high-income brackets. Under the amendment to the constitution, floated by the BJP, people with an annual income of less than Rs 8,00,000 ($11,355), and owning less than five acres of land, would be eligible.

10% quota for poor among upper castes: Who all are eligible

The Union Cabinet on Monday approved a 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections of the society. The quota is for jobs for those belonging to the weaker sections among the upper caste. The reservation can also be availed for admission in higher educational institutions.

India already has job and education quotas for its lowest social classes, but this is the first time upper caste Hindus and people from other religions will benefit from affirmative action.

Onions

The government on December 28 doubled export incentives for onion farmers to 10 per cent, following a steep drop in prices of the important staple. The export incentive programme allows farmers to get credit from the government, which can be used to pay various taxes.

E-commerce rules

The government said on December 26 it would ban e-commerce companies such as Amazon.com and the Walmart-owned Flipkart Group from selling products from companies in which they have an equity interest.

Norms for e-tailers tweaked to check discounts, cashbacks

The government on Wednesday tightened guidelines for FDI in e-commerce, barring players, including Amazon and Flipkart, from selling exclusive-only products on their platforms, a move aimed at curbing the alleged practice of influencing prices. The revised policy also puts curbs on these players from selling products of companies where they have a stake.

The rule will be applicable from February 1, and came after complaints from retailers and traders, who say the big companies are using their control over inventory from their affiliates, and through exclusive sales agreements, to create an unfair market that allows them to sell some products at very low prices.

Sales tax cut

On December 22, the government slashed the sales tax rate on more than 20 items – including televisions, batteries and movie tickets – aiming to appeal to traders and the middle class.

GST rate slashed on 23 items, more may follow next month

With the latest round of cuts, effective January 1, the government has reduced rates on nearly 360 items since GST was introduced almost 18 months ago. There are indications that in the next meeting a simpler set of rules will be put in place for small- and medium-scale industries and small service providers.

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