New Delhi: In Union Budget 2015, Finance Minister has conveyed a message wherein the benefits lie only in the fine print. For the common man, though the cumulative savings implied by various provisions are stated to be to the tune of Rs 4.44 lakh, this is assuming a certain magnitude of personal investments into pension funds and health insurance.
The budget has not provided any additional relief via increased income tax deduction limit or on repayment of housing loans. The regime on these fronts which was announced during the previous budget from eight months ago remains unchanged. This is a disappointment, since there was expectation that the Finance Minister would further increase either or both of these limits and thereby address the reality of high property prices in India.
The budget is low on big bang reforms and real estate is only an indirect beneficiary at best:
• Smart Cities: The budget did not provide any details on this initiative taken by the Government. Factors such how it will define these cities and which cities have been identified remain unclear. However, increased allocations for rail-road development, penetration of education and training centres and towards the Digital India initiative could contribute to the shaping of Smart Cities in the country.
• GST: The Finance Minister has announced that GST will commence from the next financial year and has increased service tax and central excise duty as a preparatory measure for its deployment. This puts an end to the speculation on when GST would finally become a reality.
• REITs: The Finance Minister has said that he proposes to rationalise the capital gains regime for REITs, but has not given any specifics. This could mean that the sponsor of a REIT may get a one-time capital exemption in exchange for units, but this needs to be confirmed.
• Wealth Tax: Wealth tax has been eliminated and a new Super Rich tax has been put in place. Thus, instead of valuing personal assets (including property of individuals), the government has decided to do away with that process and introduce a Super Rich Tax that simply levies an additional 2% surcharge on incomes of those individuals earning INR 1 crore and above. This is positive on two front – 1) with the previous applicability limit of INR 30 lakhs, practically every urban households came under the ambit of wealth tax, and 2) Simplifies the tax structure and collection mechanism.
• Transparency: Incentivising usage of wired money rather than cash transactions has significant pertinence to real estate, which is one sector where cash transactions have been impacting transparency. Another boost to transparency in the real estate sector is the enhanced punitive measures which will now be taken on concealment of assets, including benami properties.
• Visa on Arrival: The visa on arrival program has been increased to cover 150 countries from the previous 43, which will lead to a huge step forward for tourism in India. This is a huge plus for hospitality real estate and will also significantly amplify destination retail in the country.
• Alternative Investment Funds: The government will allow foreign investment in Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs), a category of pooled-in investment vehicles for real estate, private equity and hedge funds. AIFs are funds established or incorporated in India for the purpose of pooling in capital from Indian investors for investing as per a pre-decided policy.
(Anuj Puri is Chairman & Country Head at JLL India)