Sir — Recent revelations that the so-called charity body, the India Development and Relief Fund, collected millions of dollars from non-resident Indians in the United States of America and diverted them to organizations supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for proselytization activities are a clear indication of the saffron organization’s double standards (“US charity feeds hatred”, Nov 23). Haven’t the RSS and its saffron brothers always pointed a finger at Christian missionaries in India for using foreign funds to lure “innocent” tribals and convert them to Christianity' Is the IDRF doing anything different' Or is the sauce for the goose not sauce for the gander' In other words, are there two, differing sets of standards for the RSS and Christian organizations then' Is it all right to convert to Hinduism, but not to Christianity' Today, especially, when communal riots are being engineered with devastating frequency in many parts of the country, the question of funding is not merely one of secularism, it is one integral to the security of the nation.
Arpita Moitra, Calcutta
To fill empty coffers
Sir — The finance ministry’s move to invite public opinion on the recommendations of the Kelkar committee is unprecedented. But it is welcome nonetheless. The main reason for the dismal fiscal situation in which the Centre and states find themselves is the salaries, pensions and interest payments, which eat up almost 75 per cent of revenues. Downsizing of the government is never attempted, for political reasons.
A few steps may help mend matters. One, improving the tax administration, especially the accountability of tax authorities and auditors. Two, judicious spending by the government and a check on the salaries and earnings of politicians. Three, avoiding mindless expansion of ministries to please certain sections of the electorate. Four, tightening the monitoring bodies to avoid scandals like the Unit Trust of India. Also, the working of the judiciary and police needs to be speeded up.
B.S. Ganesh, Bangalore
Sir — For the common man, the Kelkar committee report on taxes is the last nail on the coffin. The proposed direct taxes will further strangulate the salaried class, which has always sincerely paid its taxes. The government must now identify and target the black economy too.
Nitin B. Hoskote, Mumbai
Sir — The recommendations in the Kelkar committee report regarding tax simplification are a sugar-coated pill. While on the one hand, it wants to raise the tax exemption limit to Rs 1 lakh, on the other, it wants to abolish standard deduction, exemptions on interest income and dividends (section 80L), and the tax rebate on savings (section 88 ). The net result — an added burden on the taxpayer. If the committee really wanted to simplify tax laws, it should have raised the tax exemption limit to Rs 2 lakh, with a 5 per cent tax on income upto Rs 5 lakh.
T.K. Batabyal, Calcutta
Sir — Income tax laws cannot be reformed without rationalizing the tax structure. Keeping in mind the rising prices, the exemption limit for individuals must be increased to at least Rs 1.5 lakh. Likewise, the threshold for the maximum personal income tax should be raised to Rs 5 lakh and a 20 per cent tax levied on this bracket of taxpayers. This measure is essential to check tax evasion and black money. The rate of income tax on firms should also be brought down to a uniform 30 per cent, with a lower rate of 10-15 per cent, for firms with total income of upto Rs 1 lakh. The tax base should also be widened to rope in the rural rich.
R.N. Lakhotia, New Delhi
Sir — Tax collections every year fall short by hundreds of crores in comparison with projected figures. The total non-performing assets of public sector banks runs into several hundred crores. These are big figures for a poor country like India. These deficits need to be recovered on a war footing if the economy is to pick up.
B.L. Tekriwal, Mumbai
Sir — It is puzzling that even S. Venkitaramanan, who has loads of experience in managing the Indian economy, should praise Vijay Kelkar’s recommendation that taxes on dividends be removed (“The big bang reformer”, Nov 25). By removing taxes on dividends, the committee is quite possibly opening up a route for big fish among taxpayers to escape paying the taxes legitimately due from them' Why should dividends be treated any differently from other kinds of income'
This suggestion, which cleverly slipped in without much justification a few years back, had been examined carefully in last year’s budget and removed after international practice was found not to be in favour of it. The argument that separate taxation of both a company and its shareholders amounts to “double taxation” does not stand a moment’s disinterested scrutiny.
Alok Sarkar, Cuttack
Sir — Jawaharlal Nehru was undisputedly one of Asia’s most charismatic statesmen. Sadly, some of his own ideological assumptions have now begun to hamper the growth of the nation, although it is Nehru who once provided the foundations of our democracy (“A matter of personality”, Nov 12).
Among his most worthwhile contributions include the five-year plans and an emphasis on secularism, which have greatly helped the country progress along modern and democratic lines.
Surajit Basak, Calcutta
Sir — During his lifetime, Jawaharlal Nehru was all but worshipped as the man who helped shape Indian democracy. But it has become fashionable today to blame him for many of the problems the country is facing, like the Kashmir crisis. Reportedly, Nehru once countered J.R.D. Tata’s comment that India’s population needed to be controlled, by saying that India’s strength lay in its vast numbers. His policy of non-alignment took a beating after the 1962 Chinese aggression. Nehru chose to be blind to growing corruption in his party and subtly paved the way for “dynastic democracy”. Nehru may have been a great personality, but he had his foibles.
K.K. Dasgupta, Calcutta
Doom in a dome
Sir — The vaastu expert, Ashwinie Kumar Bansal, may believe that Parliament’s circular shape is responsible for the political upheavals of late but it is Parliament’s dome-like structure that gives it much of its grandeur (“Fault lies in House, not occupants”, Nov 23). Until the Seventies, the country was run without much trouble. If discussions in Parliament are proving inconclusive today it is because our legislators are either poorly educated or not educated at all. The sagacity of the legislators in the first three or four Lok Sabhas is missing today. The last decade of coalition politics has been the worst phase in our political history. And now we have people ruling us who look at the country through saffron-tinted glasses. So the question of meaningful debates that will solve the nation’s problems does not arise.
The idea that the deaths of legislators were caused by the structure of the house is ridiculous. Why should we add the vaastu angle to a perfectly normal course of events that happened over four years' Besides, the deaths occurred outside Parliament, not within it. Bansal also seems to be afflicted by the videshi bug. He should remember that in the United Kingdom and Russia, the opposition or the ruling parties are not as fractious as in India. If the speaker cannot control the house, it is because of these divisions and not because the press gallery is positioned above him.
S. Ali, Secunderabad
Sir — The remedies suggested by the vaastu expert to rid Parliament of its “malaise” are both amusing and alarming. If everything that goes wrong in the house is because of its architecture, then it summarily absolves our legislators of all responsibility. It is however a pity that the square-shaped and tall World Trade Center could not be saved from the terrorist attack. I wonder if Ashiwinie Kumar Bansal will now attribute the poverty of the country to India’s unique shape.
Anindya Dasgupta, Serampore
Sir — Haven’t we enough problems already that we must now pay attention to the utterly silly recommendations of a so-called vaastu expert' Everybody would have been healthy, wealthy and wise if vaastu and Feng-shui were right. It would be instructive to see if vaastu experts follow their own recommendations in their private lives and, if so, to what effect.
Biswapriya Purkayastha, Shillong