Last week I wrote about the “mountain of cash” amounting to over Rs200 million recovered from the apartment of Arpita Mukherjee, an associate of the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) minister Partha Chatterjee. Plus a huge haul of gold ornaments and property papers. All undeclared and unaccounted for.
As if that was not bad enough, more raids over the week have added to the stash, with the figures now quoted close to a staggering Rs50 crores or 500 million. In cold, clandestine cash. Chatterjee, still in custody, has been sacked by his party.
In comparison, the amount recovered last month from Aam Admi Party Delhi state minister, Satyendar Jain, Rs28.5 million and 133 gold coins amounting 1.8 kilograms, seems rather modest. Or the SUV filled with wads of Rs500/- notes seized near Kolkata from the Congress Member of the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly Irfan Ansari and two other party MLA colleagues on July 30. The cash caught was 49 lakhs or close to Rs 5 million.
I mentioned in an earlier column how on the very day Draupadi Murmu was sworn in as India’s 15th President, Congress president Sonia Gandhi was called in by the Enforcement Directorate in the National Herald money laundering matter.
As I write this column, the breaking news shows Enforcement Directorate raids on the residence of Shiva Sena leader Sanjay Raut, alleged to be involved in the Patra Chawl land scam amounting to Rs1,034 crore or over Rs10 billion. No one, it seems, is being spared — at least when it comes to the opposition.
So much for our political class. Let us now turn to the lives of more ordinary citizens.
July end, for the fortunate few in India, is quite literally a taxing time. For July 31 is the deadline for filing their personal income tax. Why are Indian taxpayers the “fortunate few”? They are “few” because out of a population of 1.4 billion people only 80 million or less than 6% pay income tax. They are “fortunate,” as the government in all its tax reminder advertisements never tires of repeating, because they proudly contribute to nation building, development, and progress.
I am one of those fortunate few. On Friday, July 29, I found myself answering an urgent summons from my punctilious accountant. He asked if I could please visit his office to clarify some last-minute queries. I am one of those who dislikes not just last-minute “queries,” but last-minute anything. It causes too much unnecessary stress. But if my accountant was scrupulous, I also consider myself conscientious. There was no question of dodging his call.
It was raining quite heavily. The traffic to his office in central New Delhi was backed up because of the ongoing central vista project. When I reached, it was late afternoon. The driver hadn’t eaten, so was rather cranky. There was hardly anyone else in the office. I was pleasantly surprised, but also a bit anxious. Was I the only one with “last-minute queries”? Turned out that my employer, had not been able to give us what is known as Form 16A, the statement of salary paid, and tax-deduction at source already deposited in the government treasury.
Luckily, we were able to get the figures from the Automatic Identification System of the tax department. My accountant’s assistant said that this year there were many problems with “TRACES,” the portal, especially when it came to government employees: “Accurate figures of tax deducted at source for employees haven’t been properly updated. So income is showing accurately, but not the amount of tax already deducted.”
Sure enough, I got a mail the following day, which was Saturday and a non-working day, from the Finance Officer of the university saying that they had taken up the matter with the TRACES authorities and the figures would be updated soon. In the meanwhile, the last date for filing the returns, July 31, being a Sunday, my accountant had already submitted my returns on Friday evening. But not without forking out a fairly hefty extra amount, which my accountant said I owed the government.
I returned in the rain and a terrible traffic jam, which made us take a much longer route. I was afraid that my niece would be late for her tennis lessons because I had the car meant to drop her. Fortuitously, her tennis lesson was also cancelled because of the rain.
The “queries” had also led to my having to pay extra tax, plus penal interest. Yet, by the end of the day, I not only felt “lighter” on my pocket, but distinctly happier. Yes, I was pleased to be one of the fortunate few paying taxes for my country year after year. The extra effort and inconvenience because of the problem with Form 16 seemed not to matter in the end.
But that is precisely why scenes of huge stashes of undeclared, not to mention ill-gotten and illegal, cash confiscated by Central Government’s Enforcement Directorate fill honest taxpaying citizens with dismay, if not outrage. While we go through so much trouble to pay our taxes, the political class misuses its position to siphon off the country’s wealth to remain in political power at any cost, in addition to getting rich quickly at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve.
As to those who are not the fortunate few, over 90% of the population, this season of rains means power outages, clogged drains and underpasses, and for the really unfortunate few, homes being flooded or even swept away. The ruling BJP is blamed for being vindictive to the opposition and overlooking the sins of their own. But someone must clean up the Augean stables, a laudable even if Herculean task. That is the only way to save the world’s largest democracy. Perhaps PM Narendra Modi is the modern Indian Hercules destined to do this.