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BJP gets cold feet on ‘unpopular’ tax reforms

New Delhi, Dec. 3: With polls in nine states due next year and the general elections the year after, the BJP today demanded major changes in the “unpopular” recommendations of the Kelkar committee on tax reforms.

At the party’s parliamentary party meeting, several members expressed fears about the fallout of the report, if implemented. They urged the government to spare senior citizens, women, the middle class, weaker sections, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, farmers and employees from the tax burden suggested by the committee.

Alarmed by what it saw as adverse public reaction to the recommendations, the BJP had set up a committee headed by former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh to study the Kelkar panel’s report. A meeting of the committee was held here yesterday.

Singh, who was injured in an accident, could not attend it. But party president M. Venkaiah Naidu did. Chaired by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in the absence of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was busy with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit, the meeting asked MPs, leaders and cadre for their suggestions on the Kelkar report by December 25.

The party is planning to convene a meeting of the national executive on December 25. However, the venue has not been decided yet.

“We have asked all our MPs and leaders from states as well as our cadre to come forward with suggestions on the Kelkar committee report,” said spokesperson V.K. Malhotra.

“Our main concern is for the poor people, middle class, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, senior citizens and employees. There should be no financial burden on this section of society,” he said.

Others in the BJP committee are Jagdish Shettigar, former convener of the party’s economic cell, P.N. Vijay, economic cell chief, Malhotra, who is also the party whip in the Lok Sabha, Sushil Kumar Modi, leader of Opposition in Bihar, and Y.R.K. Reddy.

Earlier, NDA allies had expressed concern at the likely fallout of the Kelkar committee recommendations. They said the suggestions, if implemented, would be a “sure recipe” for disaster, especially with elections coming up in Gujarat and nine other states.

The allies had made it clear they would fight the report’s implementation tooth and nail.

Samata Party spokesperson Shambu Shrivastwa said the Kelkar report should be studied in depth. “On the face of it, there are many recommendations which will harm the elderly, women and the middle class without any benefit to the economy.”

In a complex country like India, with multiple levels of sustenance, the tax structure is bound to be complex, he said. “Simplifying the tax structure should not mean punishing the salaried class,” he added.

Taking strong exception to the proposal to bring agriculture under the ambit of income tax, Indian National Lok Dal leader Ajay Chautala said acceptance of the recommendations will hurt farmers.

The Akali Dal and the Telugu Desam Party also opposed the recommendations, especially those affecting the farmers.

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