Budget 2018: Revisiting Jawaharlal Nehru's maiden budget speech of 1958

File photo of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

WION Web Team Delhi, India Jan 28, 2018, 01.40 PM (IST) Sparshita Saxena

Indian freedom fighter and former Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru can never be forgotten for his irreplaceable, unforgettable contribution in realizing Poorna Swaraj for the country. As the first prime minister of the country, he steered the independent India in the direction of progress and prosperity.

Interestingly, during his sixteen-year long term as the prime minister, Nehru also got an opportunity to serve as the finance minister for the year 1958-59.

As this year’s most anticipated event -- the presentation of union budget -- draws closer, we decided to go back in time and bring out the monotones of nostalgia.

Ahead, WION throws goes back to the year when Jawaharlal Nehru assumed office as the fourth finance minister of the country.

In his speech Nehru admitted his budget to be a “pedestrian budget statement”.
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“According to custom, the Budget statement for the coming year has to be presented today. By an unexpected and unhappy chain of circumstances, the Finance Minister, who would normally have made this statement this afternoon, is no longer with us. This heavy duty has fallen upon me almost at the last moment,” Pandit Nehru noted in the opening statement of his maiden budget speech on February 28, 1958.

Nehru had to take up the task of presenting the budget of 1958 as his close associate and former finance minister Tiruvallur Thattai Krishnamachari had to step down.

Krishnamachari left office due to his alleged links in a scam. He was later exonerated, brought back to the government and served as the finance minister in 1963-65.

Nehru’s budget drew heavily from his predecessor’s version with “relatively minor changes".
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In his speech Nehru admitted his budget to be a “pedestrian budget statement”. Nehru’s budget drew heavily from his predecessor’s version with “relatively minor changes, or such changes as naturally flow from what we did last year.”

Nehru lauded his “distinguished predecessor” Krishnamachari for presenting the budget that “involved substantial additions to taxation.”

Krishnamachari was the first Indian finance minister to introduce wealth tax and estate duty.
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“Some novel taxes were introduced and an attempt was made to bring about gradually a reorientation of the tax structure of the country,” noted Nehru.

Interestingly, Krishnamachari was the first Indian finance minister to introduce wealth tax and estate duty. Nehru welcomed Krishnamachari’s move and happily carried them forward in his budget statement with minor tweaks.

“Less than ten months ago Parliament approved proposals involving very substantial additions to taxation of a magnitude rarely equalled in peace time. These covered not merely the extension of existing taxes but the levy of new taxes such as the tax on wealth and the tax on expenditure. I do not propose to make any major modification in it but to confine myself to making such improvements as are necessary to make the present pattern of taxation an integrated one, and to plug any loopholes in taxation,” shared Pandit Nehru.

However, Nehru did propose minor amendments in the Estate Duty Act. He noted that the total collections from Estate Duty fell short of what expected which was partly due to “the practice of making large gifts inter vivos which will, hereafter, be checked by the levy of the Gift Tax,” reasoned Nehru.

Nehru's stint as a finance minister was short-lived.
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“In regard to the Wealth Tax, the only change proposed is to exempt a foreign citizen from payment of the tax on his foreign wealth, even though he may be resident or ordinarily resident in India,” explained Nehru.

All in all, Nehru’s stint as a finance minister was short-lived; a huge part of his budget borrowed from his predecessor studded with minor modifications that fit the demands raised by a rapidly evolving India and its blooming economy.

Nehru was succeeded by Morarji Desai until Krishnamachari assumed office again as the finance minister in 1963.

Reports suggest Krishnamachari's ousting soon after Nehru’s death in 1964.

This year’s union budget will be presented by finance minister Arun Jaitley next week. Mr Jaitley will be presenting the budget for the fifth time.

PM Modi has already hinted at a non-populist budget and a rather stricter statement this year.

Some of the key expectations from this year’s financial announcement include rationalized GST rates, relief in income tax rates, extension of medical reimbursement value among others.