Budget 2017: Giving SMEs a stronger footing

SMEs play a crucial role in the economic development of India. They contribute to 45% of the industrial output, 40% of the exports and 42% of the employment in the country. Although these enterprises are highly significant to the economy, they are regularly challenged by policies, laws and processes In recognition of this, the Union Budget 2017 gave start-ups and SMEs a lot to cheer about.

Increasing Financial Viability with a Lower Tax Burden

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced a reduction in corporate tax from 30% to 25% for SMEs with an annual turnover of less than ₹50 crores. Moreover, the presumptive tax rate for SMEs with an annual turnover of up to ₹2 crores has been lowered from 8% to 6%. Both these measures would increase the bottom-line of SMEs. These enterprises work on low profits, and their survival is often threatened by even minor fluctuations in the business. The enhanced financial viability would increase the survival rate of SMEs.

At the same time, Budget 2017 has tried to align with the broader objective of increased digitalization. The proposed reduction in presumptive tax is applicable only for a firm’s gross receipts that are received via digital transactions. Also, no cash transaction above ₹3 lakhs would be permitted going forward. Both these measures have been designed to increase transparency and widen the tax base through digitalization.

Much Needed Breaks

Start-ups need maximum support during their initial years. From the next fiscal year, start-ups would have to pay taxes for only three out of seven years, up from last year’s exemption limit of five years, if they recorded profits. This is a great opportunity for start-ups and the economy. While a huge percentage of start-ups fail, these enterprises are responsible for introducing the most innovative products and services. The tax break announced by the Finance Minister would give start-ups a better fighting chance of survival and encourage more innovative ideas to be executed well.

Loans, Financing & Funding

The Finance Minister doubled the lending target to ₹2.44 lakh crores for the next fiscal year, making more credit available to small businesses to finance their working capital needs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already announced, on December 31, an increase in government credit guarantees for SMEs from ₹1 crore to ₹2 crores.

The FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) is to be abolished in the upcoming fiscal year. This would significantly liberalize policy related to FDI (Foreign Direct Investment). This is expected to boost retail and ecommerce in the country. Mr. Jaitley mentioned that further FDI relaxations were under consideration.

Most traditional banks are unwilling to give loans to SMEs due to the fear of defaults. Tax concession on provisions for non-performing assets (NPAs) and capital infusion of ₹10,000 crores for state-owned lenders would make loans more accessible to SMEs.

To encourage more investments into start-ups, the condition of continuous holding of 51% voting rights has been relaxed for carrying forward of losses by start-ups, provided the founder remains invested in the business.

Building on Digital India

While saying the almost 125 lakh people had adopted the BHIM digital payment app, the Finance Minister announced two new schemes – cashback for merchants and referral bonus for individuals.

Aadhaar Pay, the merchant version of the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS), is to be launched shortly. This app would enable consumers to make payments without using cards, e-wallets or even mobile phones, since the merchant’s device would be linked to an Aadhaar biometric reader. More than a billion people in India already have Aadhaar cards, and this system would make most financial transactions simple, fast and traceable. It would be a boon for raising loans, enabling fintech lenders to link repayment to payments received by the SME.

The government would be targeting ₹2500 crore digital transactions in FY18 through BHIM, Aadhaar Pay, IMPS and debit cards. The Finance Minister indicated that banks would have to introduce 10 lakh new point-of-sale (PoS) terminals by March and 20 lakh Aadhaar-based PoS terminals by September, allowing more digital transactions, which would enhance financial inclusion and transparency.

Infrastructure

For the upcoming fiscal year, the Finance Minister announced a step-up in the total allocation for infrastructure development to an all-time high of ₹3.96 lakh crores, including increased allocations for railways, road and shipping. Infrastructural development eases a huge bottleneck faced by SMEs in transporting their goods to other regions in a timely and cost-effective manner. Better infrastructure would give confidence to SMEs to expand their markets farther and reduce wastage and spoilage during transportation.

Moreover, the roll out of GST (Goods and Services Tax), which the Finance Minister indicated was tracking as planned, would further increase the ease of doing business in other states.

An allocation of ₹10,000 crores towards the Bharat Net project was announced. This would increase access to high-speed broadband across India, facilitating communication and allowing SMEs to reach out to clients located in various corners of the country in a cost-efficient way. The geographic scale achieved will help SMEs to break physical boundaries and leverage bigger opportunities for growth.

The latest Union Budget comes as a respite for start-ups and SMEs. The strengthening of these businesses would play a critical role in India’s transition to becoming an economic superpower.