The notion of a free lunch dies hard in the Indian psyche. Rooted in the era of Nehruvian socialism, when state subsidies were synonymous with economic progress, the idea has flowered even in the minds of businessmen who advocate a free market. Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya, a well-known businessman who is also the president of the Cricket Association of Bengal, believes that the CAB should not pay any tax to the Calcutta Corporation for services provided during the test match in Eden Gardens. The tax can be called anything, entertainment tax or amusement tax. There can be no denying that a test match in Eden Gardens provides entertainment/amusement on a mass scale. On what basis or on what principle can the payment of a tax be denied to the Calcutta Corporation' The mayor, Mr Subrata Mukherjee, is entirely justified in insisting that the CAB is liable to pay such a tax, call it by any name. Moreover, the tax that has been proposed by the mayor is by no means an exorbitant one. Cricket lovers, who go to Eden Gardens to watch a test match, can easily afford to pay the amount. Mr Dalmiya is not taking his stand on any principle but on precedence and to an extent, on obstinacy. There is the underlying belief, in Mr Dalmiya’s opposition to the tax, that the Calcutta Corporation should subsidize test matches by not imposing any taxes on them.
There is another related matter. During a test match, the CAB utilizes other services of the state, like the police or the fire brigade, for which it does not pay a penny to the exchequer. These are rendered free. This should not be the case. The state should charge a fee for providing these services to the CAB. The police and the fire brigade are maintained by taxes paid by the public. There is no reason why these services should be free for the CAB, a profit-making and professionally-run body. It is tantamount to the tax-payers subsidizing the CAB. This is an absurd and unacceptable situation. The rhetoric being spewed by both protagonists, Mr Mukherjee and Mr Dalmiya, can be ignored and the attention concentrated on the economic principles. There is the danger that this may not happen and the matter may acquire political dimensions especially as Mr Mukherjee belongs to the Trinamool Congress. Mr Dalmiya may not be slow to use this as a lever to lobby the left government to support him and the CAB. In a sense, the Left Front government’s handling of the situation will be a test of its — or rather Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s — commitment to economic reforms, which involves cutting back on subsidies.