By Vijay Sanghvi
Every event has its consequences and its logic as well. Often the intent of causing the event is unable to control the logic that flows from the experience. The government has brought into play the detailed scheme for controlling the use of black wealth in high-value transactions by making mention of the PAN mandatory in all deals above a certain value. The intent is to curb tax evasion, but the maze of law brandishes millions of honest in their deals with few dozen black sheep with same paint of dishonesty.
The concept in every restrictive legislative measure brandishes every citizen with the same brush of dishonest intention of evading tax and every official behind the desk in the fiscal law enforcement agency as a paragon of virtue. Experience is proved beyond doubt that the tax law enforcement structures are overcrowding with unscrupulous elements. Citizens cannot fight the basic concept of law and have to suffer untold miseries even though innocent of any malpractice. In the year, 2010 thousands of retired pensioners had to queue up at the ITOs and meet impossible demands of documentation because the finance minister had ordered reassessment in 70 per cent cases instead of regular 25 per cent reviews.
The Bombay traders had fought with the British Raj when the first-time idea of income tax was mooted in 1859 to recover from profits of business costs incurred by the Raj in fighting the uprising of 1857. The law impinged on the honesty of traders as officials were empowered to inspect books of accounts to verify tax amount paid. Traders protested against powers to officials to check their books as a slur on their honesty and refused to continue their business. Eventually, compromise was worked out that law would remain in books but not in practice and the government would the traders’ computation of their tax liabilities.
The first Government of India insisted on empowering officials of tax enforcement agencies with more and arbitrary power to question estimates by individuals as reflected in their returns till they are satisfied with evidence of honest computations. Satisfaction of officials was a term that could be interpreted differently depending on honesty and dishonesty of public servants and has eventually led to making the tax enforcement as the most corrupt agency. It is known though but never acknowledged by politicians that every post and posting in the sector is priced. OP Verma, chairman of the Central Board for indirect taxes admitted after he was nabbed red-handed in corrupt deals and found to possess properties and assets far beyond his known sources.
Corrupt can escape punishment for their crimes as the Constitution provides them protection that is used as immunity to return to their desk even after arrests. Their hands are further strengthened by the inescapable need for resources of every party to finance their politics and their elections. Their returns are never questioned even when they fail to identify donors of significant contributions because politics provides them immunity. However businessmen have to bribe their way out of the mess they get inadvertently caught. In fact, they are rarely found as they know their way out. The new law that was brought in force from the New Year would end up in flourishing an illegal market of hawala that would make available services of fake PAN usages for all shady and even fair deals. Much honest in their transactions would use the services not to avoid their liabilities but interference by and demands of unscrupulous elements in the tax enforcement.
A new measure would prove to be a catastrophe for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been striving to lure in foreign investors to bring their capital and technologies to India to accelerate its growth rate and also expand its employment base with a promise of a system that is free of some massive bottlenecks. The new law would be a clear signal to them to expect a slur on their honesty even before they launch their enterprises in India. Indian structure with its cumbersome processes and bottleneck is known the world over to divert away capitalists with the only intention of profits without sharing parts with others. They do not have to find down brokers to deal with different departments in other countries as they have to in India. Even to get admissions in private schools, they need certificates of economic status to get benefits in admissions to nursery under the reserved quota for economically weaker sections. Otherwise, the state has more say in decision making now.
The Bharatiya Janata party would have to bear the heavier cost of new tax maze than other parties as the majority in its vote bank is from the business and trading class. Not only number of cars parked but also the way they are parked outside head offices of the Congress and the BJP tell the class character of visitors. Security arrangements do not allow unknown and unidentified. Hence, it is obvious visitors are party workers. Most cars outside the BJP head quarters are parked with least care for comforts of previous occupants of space or who will follow later. They are often in violation of traffic rules. The neo-rich indulge violation of law more often as it is cheaper than the compliance of law for them. This class would be more affected by new mandatory law than others.
The new measure impinges not only on freedom but also on the business of traditional vote banks of the party. They may not loudly protest but would indeed violate it. ? A bitter truth is that so far no attempt has been made to stop rampant tax evasion in India. The man raises his hand against the law after calling it unjust is greeted as a hero with a loud applause in every film. It is fantastic scene, but the loud applause tells the mentality and psyche of crowds. In real life accused do not raise their arm but lift their hands to grease greedy palms. Each law of restrictive nature has increased only corruption to discourage honesty. But politician refuse to learn.
One could have understood restrictive nature of law to treat all Indian entertaining evil intent of throwing away the yoke of their rule. In a way, that was the treatment of honesty of purpose to every Indian. But governments in free India have treated every Indian dishonest with the intent of cheating the government. How does one describe government when it operates its citizenry with evil intent?