Preeti Sharma Menon
I am not an economist. In fact I struggle to understand even basic concepts of GDP or inflation. Yet I am possessed of certain common sense, having been a successful entrepreneur who created a business valuable enough for someone to acquire. So I understand how the money flows – who pays, who gets paid, and for what.
I got an invite to attend a meeting of a group that has styled themselves as the “Tax Payers Union”. The sheer arrogance of the rich who think they can buy their way into deciding the country’s future through their tax contribution leaves me aghast and overwhelmed. It is like telling the government, dude I am paying you protection money, now you will stand guard where I tell you.
Sorry, the government is not a mafia collecting protection money from the super rich. It is a democratically elected entity that uses the taxes to provide all citizens with public goods & services and safety. I concede that no government can create utopia, but by and large, governments give us safe environments to live in, infrastructure, markets, goods and services, to prosper in.
I have heard people say, why should a singer pay taxes, her wealth is the result of her talent and hard work. Well, she has to pay taxes because the government creates a society wherein she can hone her skills and deploy them to create wealth. So paying tax is not a duty, it is an essential ingredient, it is an expense, that you have to incur in order to earn a profit.
So when you shout “ITS MY MONEY”, check yourself. It’s NOT YOUR MONEY. It is money that you have paid towards having a functioning society, it is money that you have paid for services that you have availed in lieu of. “ITS MY MONEY and I decide where it goes” is as absurd as your boss telling you that she will decide how you spend your salary – hello?
You have worked, provided a service and you got paid a salary. Now it’s up to you to figure what to do with it. Similarly, the government has provided us with services and collected taxes, now it’s up to the government to figure what to do with it.
Now comes the second part. Who is really paying these taxes? I want to request all the nice, rich, metropolitan people chorusing “ITS MY MONEY” to understand one more aspect of India’s topsy-turvy economy. There are direct taxes and indirect taxes. Direct taxes are taxes on income, wealth and property. Indirect taxes are taxes on goods, services and excise taxes. India’s direct to indirect tax ratio is roughly 35:65. This is in shocking contrast to most developed economies where the ratio is the exact opposite, 67:33 in favour of direct taxes.
Indirect taxes are paid by everyone. The poor mother who does not have money for food and buys a Rs.2 biscuit packet to appease her hungry child is paying indirect tax, the debt ridden farmer who pays for diesel is paying indirect tax, the soldier who buys a Rs.200 recharge to talk to his family back home is paying indirect tax. 65% of India’s taxes come from such sources.
In India, in 2015 there has been a shortfall of over 45,000 crore rupees in direct tax collections while indirect tax collections overshot budget estimates by over 55,000 crore rupees! Economies worldwide work to keep indirect taxes lower as it impacts the economically weaker sections of society. Direct taxes are encouraged simply because if you are earning more, you are availing more services, using more of the system provided by the government to your benefit, hence your share is more. But in India, it’s the exact opposite as the rich most times get away without paying taxes at all!
Coming back to the “Tax Payers Union”, the idea is as absurd as restaurant goers, paying for a meal and service, and then forming a union to tell the restaurateur how he must spend his money. I do concede that many of them have honourable intentions. They want to hold the government accountable for the spends – to ensure that money is used properly for public welfare. And so they should, but as responsible voters, not as entitled patrons.
However, my bigger grouse is that under the umbrella of this group thrive the anti-welfare right-wingers who want to ensure that the government just protects the rich and desists from basic responsibilities of providing education, health, and homes to all.
These are the people who say Kanhaiya cannot be educated on my money! Well here is truth my friend – firstly it’s not your money as you have already purchased services against it, and secondly his poor family is paying for it as much as you, me, the poor mother, the farmer or the soldier.
Preeti Sharma Menon is a senior Aam Aadmi Party leader and party’s Mumbai-based spokesperson