Ahead of Durga puja festival in October, a political slug-fest has begun in West Bengal between Trinamool Congress and BJP over alleged income tax notices to some of the popular puja committees in Kolkata.
Durga puja is the biggest religious festival in West Bengal with various puja committees spending lakhs of rupees to organise an eye-popping spectacle each year. Senior TMC leaders and state ministers head several renowned puja committees and engage in healthy competition with each other to organise the best puja in Kolkata.
Over 20 such committees said they have received notices from the Income Tax Department this year asking them to deduct TDS from contractors, artists, electricians and drummers who are employed in Durga puja. The puja committees alleged that the IT department is trying to interfere in a religious festival.
According to an organiser, Durga Puja committees are not liable to pay income tax for organising a religious festival and it was not possible to deduct TDS from workers who don’t possess a PAN card and belong to unorganised sector.
The big ticket puja organisers spend around Rs 30 to Rs 40 lakh to organise the puja and collects money through donations and advertisements.
Accusing the Centre of hurting religious sentiments of the people of Bengal by sending such notices, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party Trinamool Congress threw their weight behind puja organisers and demanded that no tax should be imposed on them. The TMC even organised a sit-in on Tuesday in protest of the Centre’s move.
As TMC enjoys the support of such puja committees, the BJP was quick to train its gun on the ruling party and accused it of protecting people who have ‘looted people’s money’ through chit fund scams. Hoping to build a pro-Bengali image, BJP leaders have been trying to get hold of Durga puja committees.
On the other hand, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBTD) under the Ministry of Finance said there were incorrect reports about income tax notices to Durga puja committees.
It clarified that no notice was issued to the Durga Puja Committee Forum by the Department this year. However, it admitted that notices under section 133(6) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 were issued in December, 2018 to about 30 committees, calling for details of tax deducted at source on payments made to contractors and event managers etc.
This exercise was carried out by the TDS wing after the department got information that several contractors who were doing work for the Puja committees were not paying due taxes including the TDS statement.