Friday, 12 August 2016

Do they deserve place in Modi Cabinet?

Do they deserve place in in Modi Cabinet?

(Since writing this article, Modi has got rid of some liabilities but some remain.)

Despite all the gains that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have had during his two years in office, there is one big question that needs to be answered.

There is something seriously wrong with some of the ministers in Prime Minister Modi’s cabinet. Just consider three recent brilliant ideas: restrictions on withdrawal from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) now revoked; requiring income tax assesses having income exceeding Rs. 50 lakh per annum to furnish all sorts of information about their assets; proposal to criminalise marital rape.

The notification dated February 10, 2016 tightening rules for withdrawal from EPF before the age of 58 was a severe blow to employees facing financial hardship. It is not known whether the decision was taken to reduce outgo from the national exchequer and coffers of private employers or to force people to save even when facing serious financial problem.

Does the government think that all employees are very well-paid or every family has double income – husband as well as a wife working – or most, if not all, of the employees inherit properties from their parents? The harsh reality of life is that most of the employees in India are low-paid and often face serious financial problem. Even a well-paid person may have genuine financial problem.

 Let me give my own example. I was in Group ‘A’ service for 40 years, about three years as university lecturer and 37 years in Government of India. Since my wife was not working and I had commitments to joint family, I could not save except compulsory contribution to the General Provident Fund (GPF) applicable to goverment servants. After 8 years of Group 'A' service I .had to take loan from a bank to buy furniture when I set up my independent establishment.  After 14 years of Group ‘A’ service, I borrowed from GPF to buy my first fridge. I had not been able to save even Rs. 3000/- which was the cost of a new fridge. In early 1980s I borrowed from GPF to part finance cost of a small house purchased under self-financing scheme. Subsequently, I had to withdraw money from GPF for the higher education and marriage of my two children. Had there been restrictions on withdrawal before the ease of 58, I would not have been able to acquire a house to live in after retirement and I would not have been able to give higher education to my children.

The notification of February 10 has been cancelled after violent agitations. Is there nobody in the Government of India with foresight to visualise such a situation?

The government may justify recent income tax rules requiring persons earning more than Rs. 50 lakhs per annum to disclose – just for information, not for taxation – cost of acquisition of all sorts of assets on the ground that the measure would help detect concealed income. Such an argument is not convincing because under the income tax law there are time limits beyond which old assessment orders cannot be reopened. Ascertaining cost of acquisition of old assets, especially ornaments, received from parents or grandparents would be very difficult. The assesses will have to take the help of tax consultants to invent all sorts of stories. Even in the USA, the IRS does not require citizens to furnish such details.

The trouble with our government is that since it cannot collect from the rich and powerful more than what they want to give, it concentrates all its energy on those who cannot evade taxes. The behaviour of our government is very much like that of security guards of the gated complex in which I have my flat. According to the rules of the society, entry of trucks and functions in the common club are not allowed after 10 in the night. In actual practice, those managing the affairs of the complex relax the rules at their whim. The security guards open the gates to facilitate unchecked entry of any truck carrying all sorts of goods and unknown number of persons. They do not bother to check what has been brought in and what has been taken out. They do not bother to check who and how many persons are in the truck and how many have gone out. Those who enter unchecked move freely even in the areas which are dark. Such a ‘liberal’ attitude is very helpful if someone wants to commit crime. During the daytime, the same guards become very strict with workers, especially maid servants even if they are regulars in the complex.

There may be much better ways to deal with tax evasion by income tax payees. There could be provisions for (a) giving bank-wise summary of all receipts and outgoings; (b) all cash transactions above prescribed  limits; and (c) cost of acquisition and proceeds of sale of assets during the previous year. Another option is to link all financial transactions to PAN so that all information is automatically available to the income tax department. The government should give a try to this and review the position after 2-3 years.

Were the above decisions were taken without the knowledge or approval of the ministers concerned? Whether taken with or without their knowledge or approval, ministers concerned have shown utter lack of competence to govern.

The third brilliant idea I referred to to has come from Maneka Gandhi .(By throwing the estranged daughter-in-law out of her house in a midnight, Indira Gandhi in fact did a great favour to her and her son. That single incident brought them close to the BJP.) Perhaps she has realised that her love for stray dogs and cats was no longer bringing any dividend. To remain relevant in public life, she has invented a new cause. On April 19, she declared that ‘the centre was considering criminalising marital rape.’ How will the government enforce such a law? How will the prosecution prove in a court of law what happened in a bedroom? There is every possibility that such a law would be misused the way anti-dowry law is being misused. Such a law will increase burden on already overburdened courts without any real benefit to real victims.


Why is Maneka Gandhi, Hon'ble Women & Child Development Minister of India, not using her time, energy and clout to save lakhs of women from manual scavaenging and lakhs of children who will have to do the most degradable work in future?

Has the Prime Minister to ‘pre-audit’ every decision his ministers and bureaucrats take or announce?
Devendra Narain
April 20, 2016