The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dandiya tax dampens festivities

Mumbai, Oct. 5: When dandiya sticks clang against each other and women dressed in colourful backless chaniya cholis cram Garba sites this Navratri, it will be the state government that will be the most excited.

The Mumbai administration has decided to levy a 49.5 per cent “dandiya tax” on ticket collections during Navratri celebrations, beginning October 7. This has been broken up as 45 per cent tax on ticket sales and remaining as service tax on the initial levy.

Organisers of Navratri festivities are far from happy with the new rule. With only a few days to go before the show celebrations, they have decided to seek redress from the courts.

Devendra Joshi, president of the Mumbai Navratri Mandal, says there is no question of paying the “repressive” tax. “We aren’t going to pay up,” says Joshi, who is also the organiser of the Sankalp Dandiya Raas. “We will move court if the administration refuses to give us the no-objection certificate.”

If the new tax comes into effect, Joshi will have to shell out almost half of what he expects to earn from gate collections alone during the celebrations.

Mandal vice-president Ramesh Morabia, has his own explanation as to why there is no need to pay the tax. “Senior revenue department officials who know the law say there won’t be any need to pay the tax,” he says. “No one seems to know about the tax that has been imposed by the collector,” he adds.

The move comes after the state government last year abandoned plans of imposing a 20 per cent tax, following an outcry by Navratri mandals. The political angle being that the taxation would anger Hindu voters.

Undeterred, additional collector (entertainment), B.S. Pandey says mandals seeking no-objection certificates have been given notices to pay the tax: Pay up or wind up is the message.

Joshi, however, is livid. Reading out a government notification dated October 18, 1999, he says: “It has been clearly stated that any kind of Raas dandiya and folk dances would be exempt from taxation. Even a high court order the next year says no entertainment duty will be levied on Raas Garba and classical Indian dances. So why this now'”

The Mumbai administration gives many reasons to counter the argument. “These shows have become a major money spinner in the last few years,” says a bureaucrat.

“The price of tickets have gone up from Rs 25 in 1993 to Rs 125 this year. Season passes which used to be priced below Rs 500 earlier are now pegged between Rs 1,300 and Rs 1,500. So why should the government be left out' Some artists performing in the major dandiyas are paid almost a crore.”

There are other concerns plaguing the Navratri festivities this year. Organisers also have to contend with an earlier-than-ever deadline of 10 pm.

The entry of big event management groups have only complicated matters, taking dandiyas out of gullies to football fields and cricket maidans. As much as Rs 3 crore is spent by some of the bigger event managers on each Garba location.

As Dandiyas became noisier and profitable, the taxes went up and the deadlines came down. After a PIL by environmentalist Prabhakar Rao, Bombay High Court decided that the noisy shows in an already noisy city, would have to wind up by 10 pm.

Now there are organisers who have gone to the extent of saying that they will create “sound-proof domes” if only the court allowed them to continue till 3 am.

Dandiyas this year have, for sure, raised a lot of cloud and ruffled a whole bunch of feathers.

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