| Amandeep Johl
Calcutta, Aug. 14: Besides a huge appetite for runs, Sachin Tendulkar doesn’t compromise on sea food and the over-200-kmph cars. In this off season, it’s the latter obsession which has pitchforked him into the headlines.
Of course, one has to wait till Tuesday for Delhi High Court’s next move but, till then, the Union government’s Rs 1.13 crore customs duty waiver on Sachin’s Ferrari — presented 13 months ago by Formula One king Michael Schumacher (on behalf of Fiat) — will continue to be debated.
[Late this evening, though, Fiat India volunteered to pay the duty. A spokesman told PTI: “We feel it is the right thing to do considering the recent developments. The gift was meant to felicitate and honour our brand ambassador for his achievement (of surpassing Sir Don Bradman’s 29 Test centuries). We believe that this gesture on our part, of paying the import duty, is in keeping with the spirit in which the gift was given.”]
While few actually oppose the exemption, there definitely is unhappiness over the government not treating all sportsmen on a par.
A shade over four years ago, for instance, leading pro golfer Amandeep Johl was asked to pay Rs 36 lakh for importing a Toyota Lexus that was his for winning the Thailand Open.
Johl, who spoke to The Telegraph from Chandigarh this afternoon, declined and is today happy driving a Skoda Octavia. He is currently Asia’s No. 11.
“I won the tournament in November 1998 and, within a few days of returning from Bangkok, approached the finance ministry for a waiver.”
“In my application, I cited the example of Vijay Amritraj (a Volvo) and Ravi Shastri (an Audi 100 CD), both of whom didn’t have to pay for individual prizes, and pointed out that I didn’t have the means to fork out such a steep duty.
“Well, it took the ministry five months to respond in the negative. According to the under-secretary in the department of revenue, an exemption wasn’t possible because of a “recent amendment” to Section 25 (2) of the Customs Act, 1962…. It was suggested that a fresh application may see a reduction in duty. However, after so many months, I was fed up and didn’t make another request.”
Not being familiar with officialdom, Johl actually had to engage an “agent” to facilitate his visits to the ministry. “That gentleman had a pass or whatever, which allowed me access to the officials. How much did I pay him' Somewhere between Rs 15-20,000.”
Commenting on the Sachin issue, Johl said: “As a fellow-sportsman, I’m happy that the government waived the duty --- even though the Ferrari is a gift. At the same time, different yardsticks ought not to be applied. Rather, across the board, every sportsman should get the same benefit. Today, if there’s a controversy, the government must be blamed.”
Indeed, Johl had another sorry tale to relate.
Last year, he was featured in leading sports equipment manufacturer Wilson’s calendar and, as a gesture of goodwill, was sent a consignment of 50 for distribution among family/friends. Only, when Johl sought to clear that, a duty of Rs 4,000 was levied.
He preferred to gift that entire lot to Mumbai customs!
While Johl talked of Shastri in his application, fact is that the 1985 World Championship of Cricket’s Champion of Champions didn’t even have to apply for an exemption.
Contacted in Mumbai, he had this to say: “Neither did I speak to anybody, nor was I asked to seek a waiver (for the Audi)… After all, I had won the car in a mega international event… That Audi is still with me and won’t ever go anywhere else.”
Shastri, however, declined to comment on the Ferrari controversy. “Don’t drag me into this,” he requested.
Incidentally, Kapil Dev didn’t get an exemption on the BMW gifted during India’s maiden tour of South Africa, in 1991-92.
“A lot of people had things to say during the match-fixing scandal, three years ago, but I paid Rs 12.5 lakh as duty and have the documents to substantiate that,” he maintained, while speaking exclusively from New Delhi.
Like Shastri, Kapil didn’t talk on the Sachin issue. He did speak about Johl, though.
“The Lexus would have remained with Amandeep but, then, every Indian ought to have been proud of his achievement… That car wasn’t a gift, but the reward for a lot of hard work. A waiver, therefore, would have been in order,” Kapil added.
Earlier this year, the Union government (again) amended the relevant Customs Act to allow “ad-hoc exemptions in circumstances of an exceptional nature.” Now, perhaps, even that could be further amended.