It was the biggest musical concert of its time when the Michael Jackson, the ‘King of Pop’, performed live in Mumbai on October 30, 1996. But 20 years later, a government exemption granted for that concert has come to haunt an upcoming show featuring British rock band Coldplay. International global social forum, Global Citizen, has approached the BJP government in Maharashtra for exemption of entertainment duty for the November 19 festival, which will be headlined by Coldplay. But senior government officials confirmed that this proposal has run into a legal hitch.
In 2011, a division bench of the Bombay High Court, while hearing a public interest litigation against a similar waiver given to the Michael Jackson concert, had come down hard on the then Shiv Sena-BJP government, which was in power in 1996, for exempting the tax. It had rapped the government for “non-application of mind”. Sources confirmed to The Indian Express that the Maharashtra revenue department has now pointed to the same court rap while ruling that the tax exemption could not be granted at the department level.
In 1996, the government had branded the pop concert event as a ‘classical’ show for justifying the waiver, which the courts later had sternly objected to. Sources said that the Entertainment Duty Act contains provisions that grant the state the power for tax exemption for promotion of classical music. Adopting a cautious line this time, the department has spelt out that the concert cannot fit in this category.
The global festival works on a model where most tickets are ‘earned’ through social actions. The organisers for the Mumbai gig have informed the government had 80 per cent of the tickets will be allotted in this manner, while the rest 20 per cent would be sold. The Maharashtra government collects 45 per cent tax on ticket sales for events held in Mumbai.
While a section in the Act empowers the government to exempt duty for entertainments where the profits are devoted to philanthropic or charitable purposes, senior officials state that this provision makes it clear that there should be no charge on the takings for any expenses of entertainment. The same section also has provisions for exempting events that are of educational character or in cases where the entertainment is provided partly for education or partly for scientific purposes by a not-for-profit society. But senior officials confirmed that the organiser’s application does not provide sufficient details to provide exemption under this category.
The November 19 concert is India’s first Global Citizen Festival. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attracted headlines by attending the festival in New York’s Central Park, and had applauded the social action platform for contributing “towards eradication of poverty, improving literacy, and uplifting sanitation and hygiene”. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has already offered support for the festival in Mumbai. He was present for the launching event last month. Sources said that the BJP would also look to leverage the concert to reach out to the youth ahead of the Mumbai civic polls scheduled early next year.
The government may take the tax exemption proposal before the state cabinet, sources said. Section 6 (3) of the Entertainment Duty Act permits the state government to exempt any entertainment or class of entertainments from entertainment duty by adopting a general or a special order. While the revenue department has said that such an exemption cannot be granted at the department level, it has indicated that the cabinet can approve such a proposal.