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Taxmen plonk Bachchan in KBC hot seat

Amitabh Bachchan

New Delhi, Jan. 8: For once, quizmaster Amitabh Bachchan is in the “hot seat”, facing a Rs 1.7-crore poser.

The Supreme Court today issued notices to the superstar asking him to file his response on a petition by the income-tax department that he owes the exchequer around Rs 1.66 crore in additional taxes on his income from Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) over a decade ago.

The bench of Justices D.K. Jain and Madan B. Lokur asked the actor to send his reply within a period of four weeks. The tax demand is related to the assessment year 2001-02, which covers incomes earned during the previous financial year.

At the bottom of the long-running dispute is whether Bachchan, as the show’s anchor, fits the definition of an “artiste” for the purpose of claiming a tax exemption.

The department has argued that the sop is limited to overseas earnings or money received from foreign agencies.

Today, the judges were hearing the I-T department’s appeal against a Bombay High Court order. That ruling had upheld a decision by the income tax appellate tribunal over three years ago that Bachchan was entitled to the exemption on the show’s earnings.

The high court had rejected the department’s appeal last year, following which the department moved the apex court.

The department’s counsel, Anil Katiyar, told the apex court that the actor had put his taxable income at Rs 3.23 crore in his returns for 2001-02. The figure is an eighth of the assessing officer’s estimate of Rs 26 crore, including the amount Bachchan had earned from the hugely popular quiz show.

According to the assessing officer, the actor should pay an additional tax of Rs 1.66 crore. The stand was echoed by the chief commissioner of income tax, Mumbai.

According to lawyer Katiyar, a similar, but separate, petition filed against the actor on the matter has been pending in the apex court since May 2009. The bench clubbed both pleas today.

In the context of the other plea in 2008, the high court had upheld the tax exemption of 30 per cent on Bachchan’s total income of around Rs 50.92 crore from the show.

In reaching the conclusion, the court had accepted the superstar’s plea that he should be given relief under Section 80 RR of the Income-Tax Act, 1961, meant for “artistes”.

The department challenged the order on the ground that the relief is meant only for earnings on performances outside the country or on payments received from foreign agencies.

Bachchan, the department contended, was as an anchor in the TV programme for Star India and, therefore, could not be termed an “artiste” in that role.