Sitharaman said the Centre would examine the recommendations of the Finance Commission regarding merging the 12% and 18% GST rates and moving to a three-slab structure.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government will reach out to all stakeholders on privatisation of state-owned enterprises to reassure that their interests, such as pensions, are safeguarded.
In an interview to ET on Thursday, the finance minister said there was a directional shift in the budget in that it recognises that government alone cannot be the stimulator of the economy and, therefore, involved the private sector in every major announcement.
This directional shift in the budget in terms of policy was in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approach to the economy and in line with the Jan Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party’s belief that “Indian entrepreneurs should be given maximum opportunity”.
Her statement comes a day after the Prime Minister emphasised the private sector’s vital role in the economy and said the culture of ‘abusing’ it for votes was no longer acceptable.
Sitharaman said the post-budget reaction of the market was “motivating”.
“When it (budget) presses the right button, even for the… stock market, and when I say stock market, not just one aspect of the market, equity, bond, everything, it does tell you that probably, you know, you’re going in the right direction,” she said.
“And (this) helps to motivate you that you should be applying your mind further and making sure things go right. It definitely motivates you, there is no doubt.”
She said the government’s priority was to make sure that it came up with a budget that would help the stimulus. “My focus was to make a difference to the economy,” the FM said.
Merging GST Rates
Sitharaman said the Centre would examine the recommendations of the Finance Commission regarding merging the 12% and 18% Goods and Services Tax rates and moving to a three-slab structure.
“We will definitely be talking about it. Whenever the council finds it fit. Sooner, I suppose. Whether it will be in the next meeting itself, I can’t speak for the council as yet. We’ll have to see,” she said.
Asked about appealing the Cairn arbitration verdict, the finance minister said, “Of course, in the sense of the larger principle that the government’s right to tax cannot be questioned.” She said she has authorised finance secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey and his team to meet the Cairn chief executive officer Simon Thomson and hear him out. “We’d like to hear them,” the finance minister said.
Asked which banks will be considered for privatisation, she said there will be “a basket of considerations” along the lines of the amalgamation process for public sector banks.
“We brought together banks with completely different capacities and we wanted to have the synergies of both so that the bank which has extensive network in a particular area comes in also, but that bank which is sitting over mounds of deposits but doesn’t have that many branches (is) also able to benefit,” she said.
Asked if industrial houses or foreign investors will be allowed to participate in the stake sale, if the RBI opened bank licences to industrial houses, she said it was not the first time that Indian industrial houses were allowed to own banks.
“What was IndusInd bank? So, this is not the first time and I’m not speaking for the RBI. This is an RBI paper, I’m not here to comment on it and I don’t think the RBI has even approached the government saying this is what we’re doing,” she said, adding that it was too soon to speak about it.
“But then the fact remains, is it the first time that we are talking about it in this country? Not even talking, it has happened earlier,” she said.