FM Nirmala Sitharaman says haven’t discussed GST hikes yet

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday asserted that the measures taken by the government to reverse the economic slowdown have begun to bear fruit and pledged to respond with more steps, if required. The GDP growth crashed to an over six-year low of 4.5% in the September quarter.

The minister also countered speculations about a restructuring of the GST slabs of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28% to address a big shortfall in collections, saying the finance ministry hasn’t yet discussed any such issue. “Buzz is everyplace apart from my workplace,” she remarked, but did not rule out a hike in GST rates of some items.

“Till now, sectors that have demanded some quite intervention, we have responded to them. I will be keen to visualize whether these steps are meeting the expectations of the sectors. If not, I may want to see if I need to do more. As of now, there’s no different sector that has approached me as yet,” she said while briefing reporters about the impact of various steps initiated by the finance ministry in recent months to prop up the economy.

Giving a presentation, chief economic advisor Krishnamurthy V Subramanian said within just two days, as many as 17 proposals for the purchase of NBFC assets worth Rs 7,657 crore have been approved by the state-run banks under the government’s partial guarantee scheme.

Those of Rs 20,000 crore are expected to be completed in the next two week. Earlier this week, the government allowed state-run banks to purchase relatively low-rated (BBB+ and above) pooled assets of financially-sound NBFCs, instead of just high-rated ones.

To boost consumption through affordable credit, state-run banks have sanctioned 8.18 lakh repo-linked loans worth Rs 72,201 crore until November 27 (since October 1). The banks have also given sanction for a one-time settlement of loans of Rs 16,716 crore.

Asserting that India remains an attractive destination for foreign investors, Subramanian said FDI worth $35 billion flowed into this country in the first half of this fiscal, against $31 billion a year before. With the recent sharp cut in the corporate tax rate (standard rate of just 15% for new manufacturing projects), the country is well poised to draw more investors, he added.

Speaking on the occasion, revenue secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey said the income tax department has issued as much as Rs 1.57 lakh crore of refunds in the first eight-and-a-half-months of the current fiscal, against Rs 1.23 lakh crore in the entire 2018-19 fiscal. Likewise, an Integrated-GST discount of Rs 38,988 crore has been discharged so far this money related contrasted with Rs 56,057 crore in the full 2018-19 FY, he said.

Pandey said 52,000 applications have been received for settlement of Rs 27,911 crore under the Sabka Viswas legacy dispute resolution scheme. As many as 13,000 appeals against the tax department have been withdrawn from various courts, while 58,322 cases have been covered under the faceless assessment system.

Stressing that the country witnessed a greater formalisation in recent years, Subramanian said the share of the organised sector in labour force rose by two percentage points to 19% between 2011-12 and 2017-18. Similarly, the share of casual workers dropped by 500 basis points to 25% and that of regular salaried workers went up in equal measure to 23%. During this period, the share of workers in the “remunerative” segment rose from 15.22% in 2011-12 to 18.47% in 2017-18.

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