Debating India

BUDGET 2006 - 2007

Tax the big fish

Saturday 1 April 2006, by SHUKLA*Rajeev

During the recent debate on the Budget in Rajya Sabha, I pointed out a major lacuna in the provisions of service tax. Unfortunately, the Finance Minister took refuge behind a peculiar excuse to skittle the issue. In my view, when ordinary professionals can be brought into the service tax net, there is no justification to leave out the country’s top lawyers and doctors. I will certainly not advocate that lawyers in lower courts or even in high courts be asked to pay service tax, but there is no way we ought to be sparing Supreme Court lawyers earning hefty monthly fees. I know several lawyers and doctors earning crores in fees for their services every month.

On the other hand, the burden of service tax is unjustly imposed upon small artistes, including writers and scriptwriters, poets, painters and musicians. Perhaps a slab system could be employed where lawyers and doctors earning more than Rs 5 lakh in fees every month would pay service tax. Why should the likes of Arun Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad, P Chidambaram, Ram Jethmalani and Kapil Sibal escape paying service tax?

With the Prime Minister seated among us, Finance Minister Chidambaram had an interesting reply: he said he was in favour of taxing the lawyers but he will not do it because his own fraternity would pounce upon him.

We twin

There can never be two sets of rules for a single game. Everybody remembers how the last day of Parliament’s previous session was completely wasted by the Samajwadi Party and BJP. Both parties stalled the House and made loud allegations based on assumptions that the government was to bring an ordinance to prevent disqualification of a single individual over the office of profit issue; the target obviously being Sonia Gandhi.

Boisterous SP leaders shouted that an ordinance should not be brought. Repeated assurances by the Deputy Chairman were ignored as the SP joined hands with the BJP and held Parliament’s decorum to ransom. Together they even marched to Rashtrapati Bhavan to protest.

It therefore came as a shock when the same SP suddenly brought in a Bill on Wednesday in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly to prevent disqualification of a single individual, who happens to be the head of the Uttar Pradesh Development Council, on the same grounds. In an astonishing display of hypocrisy, what they opposed in Parliament was exactly what they managed to accomplish in the Assembly.

The Bill in question was introduced cleverly at a time when most Congress members were away participating in a demonstration in the Mehar Bhargava murder case. As is usual in UP, the BJP, being the B-team of the SP, conveniently provided a smooth passage to the Bill by raising mere oral protest. They did not storm the well like they did in Parliament.

The NDA government in Jharkhand also brought in a similar Bill in the state Assembly and had it passed forcibly.

Diamonds are forever

Since Prince Charles committed all help in returning Kohinoor and other important Indian artefact to India during his recent visit, the Ministry of External Affairs should pursue the matter. The Indian High Commission should be asked to initiate the process of repatriation of what are undoubtedly symbols of our national pride. The Kohinoor today rests in a London museum, where it is the star attraction for tourists from around the world. A Scotland museum houses clothes and weapons of Tipu Sultan. The Indian government should also adopt a broad outlook in such matters concerning our national heritage. When Vijay Mallya brought Tipu Sultan’s historic sword back to India after buying it in an auction, Customs authorities harassed him so much for taxes that he was left with no option but to take it back to England. What was meant to be displayed in a public museum in India is now confined to a private collection abroad.

The writer is a Congress Rajya Sabha MP

See online : The Indian Express

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