The UPA II government's last budget before elections next year evoked mixed reactions from the corporate sector, which praised lack of populism in the wake of the Centre's tricky financial health but lamented absence of more concerted steps that could have spurred an economic revival.
"The finance minister has chosen substance over sentiment. His focus remains on fiscal health," said Shinzo Nakanishi, managing director and CEO, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. "The incentives for investment in manufacturing and for first time home buyers can potentially encourage growth. The gender sensitivity reflected in the budget is welcome. Although this budget may not boost consumption in the short term, higher rural spends by the government are likely to be positive for demand. It is a balanced and sober effort."
With the focus solely on higher inclusive growth rate and increased fiscal prudence, there were no major relaxation on personal tax slabs that would have put more money in the hands of the consumers. But the government substantially hiked outlays for health, water and sanitation.
"Many proposals are development-inclusive. It will add to GDP growth," said Adi Godrej, chairman, Godrej Group. "We are particularly glad to see incentives for agriculture, MSME, infrastructure and capital market."
Business leaders said they were happy because the government decided not to go overboard wooing voters even though temptation was high in an election year.
"This is not a very populist budget and the Centre has not gone overboard on taxation," said Pawan Goenka, president (automotive), M&M. "Intent to reduce fiscal deficit is there and the budget shows it is no hollow claim."
However, there was disappointment in some quarters at the lack of steps that would have kick-started a slowing economy.
"We were hoping the budget would breathe some life into the economy," said Ranjit Shahani, CMD, Novartis India. "Expecta-tions of a big bang announcement to restart the economy were beli-ed - expectations were high..."
The pharmaceutical sector was left high and dry too.
"I think, keeping in mind this fiscal deficit, there is nothing much you could have expected, and really, healthcare is getting short shift for a while and I think its going to continue for a while," said Fortis Healthcare executive VC Shivinder Mohan Singh.
Barring incentives for first time home loan borrowers, real estate players were unimpressed too.
"The developer community is thoroughly disappointed the FM has not given any directions to the RBI on the imperative to support real estate funding," said Lalit Kumar Jain, president, Confederation of Real Estate Developers Associations of India.