Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014

Fifth column: Ending tax terrorism?

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Finance Minister Arun Jaitley
Written by Tavleen Singh | Posted: August 3, 2014 12:01 am

When I saw the Finance Minister announce for the umpteenth time that he was ordering his tax inspectors to go forth and “unearth” black money, I sent him a text message asking him to call me. He called promptly unlike other ministers in the new government, so full marks to him for this. In the brief conversation we had, I humbly submitted that the Tax Department employed some very, very corrupt officials and that his war cries would only make them behave worse than they already did. These tax inspectors are directly responsible for the ‘tax terrorism’ that the new government promised to end. They harass you if you pay taxes and they harass you if you do not, and nearly always the money obtained to stop the harassment never ends up in government coffers. Arun Jaitley heard me out and said that I should go ahead and write what I wanted to so as to make my point more clearly. So here goes.

It is obvious that the new government is desperately short of money and this is probably the main reason why that absurd retroactive tax has not yet been abolished. Clearly the way to get more money could be relatively easy if more Indians paid income tax, but one reason why they do not is because you need an accountant to help you fill the 30-page income tax form. I have paid income tax ever since I got my first job in The Statesman newspaper 40 years ago, but to this day I need my accountant to fill the form for me. It is long, confused and dense. It contains an endless list of convoluted questions. Only an Indian clerk could have come up with this Kafkaesque document. If I were an American citizen, I would need to fill a two-page form, and if I were British, the form would be slightly longer but so simple that semi-literate Indians could fill it easily.

Since the Prime Minister won the election by promising “minimum governance”, he would do well to begin by simplifying income tax forms. He could then go on to simplifying passport application forms and the total abolition of the arrival and departure forms that Indian citizens fill in every time they leave or enter their own country. To come back though to the income tax form, may I say that even the Finance Minister, a highly educated lawyer, would need the help of an accountant to fill out his tax returns.

Please dear Finance Minister try and file your wealth tax returns online as an exercise to see how devious are the ways of Indian officialdom. Technically this service has been introduced to make life easier for those who pay wealth tax, but the reality is that it makes it impossible. In the case of jewellery, the details demanded of the size, shape, colour, weight and worth of every item continued…

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