A letter from an Indian housewife to the Finance Minister ahead of the Budget:
Dear FM, I would like to introduce myself as the Finance Manager of my household. As I read the newspapers every day, I see so many expectations from so many segments. You must surely be overwhelmed.
As an FM, I understand how it is to handle expectations, and hence this letter is not about my expectations but my advice to you on what you can do in the Budget.
1. Income tax
I see so many articles talking about income tax and the expectations to raise the income tax slabs. I'd say, you know better and this expectation to hike the slabs is a perennial thing that crops up every Budget, raises hopes so high and mostly ends up in disappointment. For some years it was Mr. Pranab Mukherjee and sometimes it's been you. I advise you not to raise the slabs. I doubt if any housewife really cares about taxation issues as what we are bothered about is the cash flow to the house.
My advice: Please make the tax collection systems stronger and efficient so there is a bigger mop up and you do not have to depend on the revenue from common people like us. Also, show us projects that will ensure that the money my husband pays as tax is used to make life better for us.
2. Help me reduce my expenses
A penny saved is a penny earned is what I have taught my children. I am sure you have known it all your life. Housewives are called so because of our inability to 'earn' income. But no one credits us for the savings we make on expenses. We don't mind that as long as we can save more. Today, the biggest expense for our household is the school fees and children's education. I can compromise on our lifestyle but cannot do so with children's education.
My advice: Please announce schemes that can result in a reduction in the cost of quality education, thus reducing my monthly outflow on fees. Please strengthen the public distribution system, so we are able to get quality food products at affordable prices. Please announce strong schemes for agriculture so we can get better vegetables and grains at lower prices.
3. Salary for housewives
There has been a lot of debate over husbands paying a salary to a housewife. It is a highly sensitive issue and hence I would not like to explore that. But, at the same time, I am sure you understand that a housewife is an employee who is paid only in love and affection. Why don't you break that taboo and fix a monetary value to our services and make it an expense which is tax deductible for my husband. You could have a fixed component common for all housewives and a variable component based on number of married years - this will also help reduce the huge cost of divorces our country is facing right now.
4. Housewives as part of SME sector
Every budget has so much talk about SMEs and supporting them. But what about the informal SME sector that runs in so many households? Tailoring, crafts, tuitions etc. We contribute so much to the GDP but it is never accounted. Actually, we like it to stay that way. But, can you announce some schemes so that housewives get better financial opportunities to render their services without actually walking out of the house.
5. Gold and its irony
It's funny that when I want to buy gold I want the prices to come crashing down, but the moment I have bought it, I want the prices to sky rocket. Today a lot of housewives invest in gold as that is one of the few investments we easily understand.
Advice: Can you announce simple yet effective financially effective investment schemes run by the government so we can have more liquidity? From an economics perspective, too, this will give cash flow for the government rather than all that money lying idle in the form of bangles and necklaces which I rarely wear, what with the law and order situation outside. Lower demand for gold will also help rationalize the prices in the gold market and help me buy better stuff at affordable prices.
The bottom line: Give us ways in which cost of food, education and shelter come down. We don't care if CTBT is imposed or some new form of taxation is scrapped. At the end of the day, can you help me put more money in the saving jar at home? If you can do that, you have my vote.
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