The government on Monday indicated that it may tinker with the excise duties and service tax rates in the Interim Budget in an apparent bid to boost economy but may not pursue key reforms legislations due to lack of political consensus.
Addressing a press conference on the eve of Parliament session, Finance Minister P Chidambaramon Monday said his vote-on-account budget to be presented in the Lok Sabha on February 17, will be short, between 12 and 18 pages, on which he would prefer a debate.
“In 2004, Mr Jaswant Singh made a 12-page speech. In 2009, Mr Mukherjee made an 18-page speech. So I have two numbers to choose from between 12 to 18. We can make any proposal short of amending any law.
“We cannot propose amendments to the Income Tax Act, Customs Act or the Excise Act. But any proposal short of amending a law can be made. We can also outline vision for the future,” he said.
Replying to questions, he said, whatever changes are required to be made to excise rates or service tax rates without an amendment to the law “are being made and will be made”.
“We have made a couple of changes last week. We will continue to make those changes until the term of this government if they do not require Parliamentary legislation or sanction. We will have to notify the changes and place the notification in Parliament.”
As regards the Insurance Bill , which seeks to raise FDI cap in the sector from 26 per cent to 49 per cent, Chidambaram said it was not likely to be taken up in Parliament session beginning February 5, the last one of the current Lok Sabha.
“In the Insurance Bill they (opposition parties) have made it very clear it will not pass it (in the upcoming session)”, he said, adding that there is no consensus among states on the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
In view of heavy agenda before the last session of 15th Lok Sabha, which will have only 12 sittings, the government is not likely to push the Direct Taxes Code (DTC), which seeks to replace the over 50-year-old Income Tax Act, 1961.
The GST Bill, which has been pending for long, aims at overhauling the indirect taxes regime by subsuming various levies such as excise and service tax.
As regards the Sebi amendment Act, which aims to empower the capital market regulator to effectively crack down on ponzi and other illegal collective deposit schemes, Chidambaram said, “(it) is very high on the priority list. I raised in all party meeting I pointed out the bill was promulgated twice”.
The Minister wanted the Standing Committee on Finance on Sebi amendment bill to submit its report by Tuesday or the first day of the session to enable Parliament to approve it.
“We will be doing great disservice to thousands of depositors whose money is stake at collective investment schemes which were not adequately regulated. It’s imperative that this bill is passed”, he said, but regretted that no one assured that they will allow the bill to be passed.
On the amendments to the Forward Contracts Regulation Act, he said, “we are not yet ready with amendments”.
The amendment bill seeks to provide the commodity market regulator FMC more financial autonomy, encourage participation of institutional investors and facilitate introduction of new products like options and indices.
Replying to questions on the Shah Commission, he said the Cabinet has referred this to Committee of Secretaries (CoS) to sit together and draw up the action taken report (ATR).
The report of the Shah Commission, appointed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, will be placed before Parliament together with an action taken report, Chidambaram said.
The Justice M B Shah Commission had probed illegal mining in various mineral-rich states since January 2011. It had submitted 5-volume final report to the Union Mines Ministry five months back and as per rules, it needs to be tabled in the Parliament within six months of the release to the government.