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Jaswant woos consumers — Slashes duties on a wide range of goods

Our Bureau

New Delhi , Jan. 8

IN a clear message that there will be no going back on its economic reforms agenda irrespective of the timing of elections, the Government on Thursday announced major import duty cuts and certain taxpayer-friendly measures in a virtual `mini-Budget.'

In line with its stated intention of taking import tariffs closer to Asean levels, the Finance Ministry has slashed the peak rate of customs duty on all non-agricultural goods from 25 per cent to 20 per cent, and scrapped the special additional duty of customs (SAD) of 4 per cent currently levied on goods imported by manufacturers.

Further, sectors such as steel, power and health have been provided sops by way of lower duties on inputs. The customs duty on non-coking coal has been reduced from 25 to 15 per cent. Similar cuts have been administered on nickel (from 10 to 5 per cent), electricity meters (from 25 to 15 per cent) and imports for power transmission and distribution projects (from 25 to 10 per cent).

The customs duty on specified life-saving bulk drugs, formulations and medical equipments have been lowered to 5 per cent, while also making them exempt from payment of countervailing duty.

For the tax payer, the `mini-Budget' — which has practically rendered irrelevant the question whether there would be a full-fledged Budget on February 28 or simply a vote-on-account — has exempted individuals having salary income of up to Rs 1.5 lakh from filing returns, provided their entire tax payable is deducted at source by the employer. Pensioners have also been exempted from the purview of the one-by-six scheme, which means they do not have to file returns if they have no taxable income.

The Finance Ministry has also halved the customs duty on cell-phones to 5 per cent, while also making air travel, computers and VCD/DVDs substantially cheaper. Air passengers will no longer have to fork out pay the 15 per cent Inland Air Travel Tax and Rs 500 Foreign Travel Tax. Further, the excise duty on aviation turbine fuel has been halved to 8 per cent.

A similar excise cut has been effected on personal computers, even as laptops brought as part of baggage have been made totally duty-free. There will no excise imposed from now on recorded video compact discs and digital video discs. The quantum of liquor importable duty-free through the baggage route has been doubled to 2 litres.

In consonance with India's commitments under the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), the customs duties on specified capital goods used for manufacture of electronic goods have also been slashed from 10-15 per cent to nil. The same on specified raw materials and inputs used to manufacture electronic components and optical fibres/cables has been reduced from 5-15 per cent to 0-5 per cent.

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