Every year around the month of February, the nation goes into a frenzy about the upcoming Union Budget which is presented by the Finance Minister of India. The Union Budget not only showcases how our country has spent its money the previous year, but also how it intends to spend its money in the coming year.
It is sad to note, however, that most women tend to shy away from conversations about the budget despite the fact that they constitute half the country, because of their own preconceived notions about how it’s “complicated” or “not for them.”
Why women need to pay attention
The Budget, which primarily deals with direct and indirect taxes, is certainly for women and it is most certainly not complicated.
To put it simply, direct taxes are on the income that you earn, and indirect taxes are levied on your consumption or purchases.
Today, women constitute a significant chunk of the workforce and more importantly, are sole decision makers when it comes to purchasing for their households. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that women pay attention to the budget, because knowing how the tax system works will definitely help in making significant money based decisions in the future.
What women need to pay attention to
The Income Tax slab determines the amount of tax that individuals of the country have to pay. Up until 2011, women had a separate tax slab with a higher exemption limit (the higher the exemption limit, the more an individual can earn without having to pay tax), but that was scrapped from the year 2012.
Currently, you can earn up to Rs 2,50,000 and not have to pay tax. Many pundits have predicted that our Finance Minister might radically alter the tax slab to provide a higher exemption limit and lower tax rates to bring much needed relief to the salaried classes.
Many announcements are also made with respect to Chapter VI-A of the Income Tax Act, 1961 that deals with deductions from your income. Once again, it is predicted that there will be increases in deductions to encourage investments among the salaried class, but as the Nobel winning physicist Niehl’s Bohr once said, ‘Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.’
Women entrepreneurs should watch out for special loans or discounts in interest that are announced to encourage budding businesswomen. I have personally noticed many young, first time entrepreneurs take on expensive personal loans instead of these government schemes simply because they didn’t know any better.
What women really need to pay attention to though, is the part of the Budget Speech that talks about indirect taxes. There has never been more proof of the Finance Ministry’s blindness to the needs of women than there is today, with the government levying 12% GST on Sanitary Napkins. In the previous tax regime, the taxes on Sanitary Pads worked out to around 14%, but that the government decided to continue taxing women for simply being women, is appalling.
The taxes on Sanitary Napkins are also unhelpful for NGOs that supply locally made napkins to rural women because of the steep increase in raw material costs, also because of GST. Keep in mind that taxes on Sanitary Napkins are just one small piece in the puzzle. There are taxes on a number of products that women use and purchase for their families on a daily basis, and it is so important to be aware of these taxes because most of the time, governments get away with what they do because its people accept whatever is thrown at them, and people accept because they don’t know any better.
So, be aware of the rates that they announce in the budget, read the various analyses that come after the speech and make your own conclusions. Awareness and knowledge don’t just enable better spending choices, but also enable your voice to be a part of a bigger conversation, a conversation that women have long been left out of.
Rupee Rani is a weekly column on finance for women. Write to us with your queries at firstname.lastname@example.org.