First published on Tehelka.com
Must say, the nation has been ambling along fairly well ever since the days of the Preamble. Over the years we have fought and won many a sly battle, shot satellites into space (maybe some went precariously inches over the heads of neighbours, but that’s okay), exploded a couple of real indigenous nukes (not the cheapo Chinese types that the guys next door pointlessly threaten us with), built up an awesome military with kickbacking howitzers, commissioned (pun intended) dams, bridges, eight lane highways and industries, pushed through reforms, stashed away sackfuls of black money….well, the long and short of it is that we have succeeded in doing ourselves proud and turned India into a truly sovereign, socialist, secular , democratic republic where everyone is free to have his way.
Admittedly, none of such outstanding developments may have taken place had the country not been blessed by a bunch of really heroic finance ministers. Year after year they come up with formidable treatises on the nation’s economic health, crunching numbers in excruciating detail, the mystery heightened by elaborate literary embellishments in each subsequent retelling of the union budget. Amidst the matrix of baffling financial jargon, the common man sits dumbfounded like the Tusshar Kapoor of Golmaal, holding his breath, fearing the worst, and worried to death as to how he would make ends meet without having to sacrifice his smoke.
Perhaps the single most important factor of the budget is the tax. Somewhere down the line, the wily bureaucrats must have figured out that there are far more innovative ways to levy a tax without having to call the goon by his name. So they named it ‘cess’. Though I am no expert in etymology, I have firm reasons to believe that the word ‘cess’ surely comes from excess, which, by all means, sufficiently describes what a budgetary exercise is all about. An alternative theory traces ‘cess’ to Bangla’s ‘shesh’, meaning ‘the end’, which is when the villain shoots the hero dead in real life. Either way, the common man loses and more black money makes it’s way to the Alpine climes.
This is why there is all the more need to simplify the budget. With scams and embezzlements becoming the order of the day, the entire union budget appears to be an exercise in futility. Much like Om Puri’s role as a crook in Victoria No. 203. Doesn’t matter if you have never heard of the movie? Even I hadn’t until today. The idea is, why burn midnight oil trying to figure out plan outlays and capital expenditure when you can’t stop billions leaking out surreptitiously.
Why can’t the government just admit that scams exist, and in acceptance of it’s legitimacy, charge a uniform 10% ‘disservice tax’ on the dough generated through this route? 10% of 10% amounts to 1% of the GDP, if you would get the drift. Simple calculation. Trust me, with this stunning masterstroke, the government will, in a single financial year, put together a revenue far in excess of whatever trickles in painstakingly through income tax, outcome tax, capital gains tax, service tax, business tax, wealth tax, health tax and sundry other complicated instruments in a whole decade. Consider the positive fallouts. All ambiguity in financial dealings will disappear. Business processes will be streamlined like never before, corporates will heave a sigh of relief and accountancy firms will breathe in a sunshine of transparency.
Most of all, the common taxpayer will be spared from taking his trousers to the tailor every now and then to get the burnt holes in his pockets patched up. Good riddance.