As TMC workers on Tuesday staged a dharna over income tax (I-T) notices to Durga Puja committees, the Central Board of Direct Taxes issued a statement calling the reports “factually incorrect”. However, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee hit back at the CBDT, calling the imposition of tax on Durga Puja committees as ‘Puja Jijia Tax’.
In a statement issued late on Tuesday evening, the CBTD said, “There have been reports in the media about Income Tax notices being issued to Durga Puja Committees in Kolkata recently. The reports also mention that Income Tax notices were sent to the Durga Puja Committee Forum in the last few weeks. It is unequivocally stated that the said reports are factually incorrect and are strongly denied. It is a fact that no notice was issued to the Durga Puja Committee Forum by the Department during this year.”
The statement also said, “However, as the Department had been getting information that several contractors who were doing work for the Puja committees were not paying due taxes, therefore 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. engaged by the committees for the Puja events, including the TDS statement. This was part of an exercise carried out by the TDS wing of the Department to ensure that the contractors and event managers pay their due taxes in time. Many of the committees complied (with) and furnished evidence of tax deducted at source as well as deposit of the same into the Government account.”
The statement also clarified, “It is reiterated that the aforesaid exercise is in no manner whatsoever against the Puja Committees, but has been undertaken to ensure that the contractors and event managers pay their due taxes correctly within the stipulated time.”
Late on Tuesday evening, Banerjee responded to the CBDT statement.
“I have come to know just now that CBDT has issued a Press Release clarifying regarding notices to Durga Puja Committees for puja tax, which is popularly known as ‘Puja Jijia Tax’,” she wrote on her Facebook page, referring to the Jizya tax that was imposed by Muslims rulers on non-Muslim subjects in the medieval period.
“I would like to share with all of you that in the name of so-called Press Release, they have made certain claims which themselves prove that they are factually incorrect. In fact, Income Tax authorities sent notices to Puja Committees last year regarding event management including ‘Dhaki’, ‘Purohit’, small and village artisans engaged in arts and crafts working in pandals for collecting tax from them through puja committees by way of TDS, which is as good as ‘Terrible Disaster Scheme’. This is, undoubtedly a huge burden on them,” she said.
Terming the statement misleading, the CM further said, “CBDT clarification that no notices have been issued for this year makes little sense. It is only obvious that for pujas held this year, notices will only be issued next year, which is as per their scheme of tax assessment. So, the clarification itself proves that the imposition of tax very much stands. Then, why misleading? The Press Release is a sheer distortion of facts with an aim to create confusion in the minds of local people and puja committees and perpetrate mental tension.”
Banerjee added, “This is also an attack on our culture and on our Durga Puja festival. I do not know whether this is being done knowingly or unknowingly, but it is certainly of bad taste, especially when people of all religions, caste, creed participate in our Durga Puja, which is just like a national festival. Any such taxation should be totally withdrawn and the festival should be allowed to be celebrated with its usual fervour. My humble submission and appeal to the authorities would be not to impose such tax or TDS or ‘Jijia’ tax on any puja committees or any festival.”
To protest against the Centre’s decision to serve income tax (I-T) notices to Durga Puja committees, the TMC held an eight-hour dharna in central Kolkata on Tuesday
Banerjee on Sunday had announced that members of Banga Janani Brigade, TMC’s women’s wing, would sit on a dharna at Subodh Mullick Square on Tuesday. Claiming that Durga puja festival should be exempted from any kind of taxes, Banerjee had urged organisers, participants and all people to join the protest.
As directed by Banerjee, several senior TMC leaders including, Kakali Ghosh Dastidar, Chandrima Bhattacharya, Shashi Panja, Firhad Hakim and Nayana Bandyopadhyay, took part in the sit-in and raised slogans against the BJP-led central government.
“The I-T notices served to Durga puja committees hurt the religious sentiments of the people of Bengal. This also goes against the culture of Bengal. In protest against this, we have organised the sit-in to make it clear that the voice of Bengal cannot be suppressed like that. This festival is for all,” said TMC MP Kakali Ghosh Dastidar.
Senior party leader and minister Chandrima Bhattacharya said, “These Durga puja committees are like NGOs. They have no-profit motive. As they do not make income out of it, the Income Tax Act is not applicable to them. The I-T department cannot serve them notices. There have been cases and the Supreme Court has given verdict that tax cannot be collected from a place of worship.”
However, the BJP has accused a section of ruling TMC leaders of laundering money allegedly looted through chit fund scams through the Durga Puja committees.
“The TMC leaders and ministers have looted money from chit fund companies and hid them through puja committees. This has to come out in the open,” said state BJP general secretary Sayantan Basu.
More Durga pujas being held under TMC rule: CM
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday said more Durga pujas are being held in West Bengal under the TMC rule than under previous governments.
Reacting to BJP’s allegations that Durga Puja is being curtailed in the state by the TMC government, Banerjee asked the saffron party to first look into the work it has done since it came to power at the Centre.
“Some people often accuse me of obstructing Durga Pujas and curtailing the number of pujas. They should first know how lakhs of Durga Pujas are taking place in Bengal during our government’s tenure. This never happened when under previous governments in Bengal,” Banerjee said while inaugurating the Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Museum in Kolkata. She also said she does not need to prove her Hindu identity to others. “I know more Sanskrit scriptures than those who criticise me and question my religious identity,” she said.