Mrs FM's aam-aadmi tune

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By JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
  • Published 28.02.11
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New Delhi, Feb. 27: She was busy rehearsing with her choir — Geetanjali Troupe — at her home on Talkatora Road in the evening, while her husband was orchestrating a vast array of numbers that will be Union Budget 2011-12 barely a kilometre away in his office at Raisina Hill.

Suvra Mukherjee, or Mrs FM in New Delhi’s official parlance, came out in a cotton saree draped with a shawl to keep out Delhi’s February-end chill. Like most housewives, Suvra, an accomplished singer, says “taxes should not be raised”.

The finance minister’s family members rarely get to see him prior to the budget. Son Abhijit, relaxing with Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, smiled as he spoke about his wish list: “I could never say this to my father but I would like the tax (floor) limit to be increased, not necessarily the tax slabs, and a hike in the amount allowed for tax savings.”

Many believe that though Mukherjee will be hard-pressed to raise resources for various development and employment guarantee schemes, he will try to help the Congress party’s prospects in the upcoming state Assembly elections through sops to the income tax payers.

The Direct Taxes Code, which Mukherjee wants to implement next year and from which he may borrow some measures this year, recommends raising the minimum threshold limit for paying taxes and increase the limit for tax-free savings from the current Rs 1.2 lakh.

This he will probably do based on the cold logic of the Laffer’s curve, which says moderate tax rates help to raise more revenues, and not based on any conversation with his wife or son at the dining table.

His wife confirmed as much by stating without any prompting, “Aami to kono din ore politics baa office-er kaaj niye kono mantabbo korina aar uni kokhono oishab niye kichu bolen na (I never comment on his politics or office work … nor does he ever discuss work with me).”

Suvra said with a smile, “Mrs Gandhi-r somoy teyo aamra kaaj niye kono katha boltam naa (even when Mukherjee was minister in Mrs Indira Gandhi’s cabinet, we never discussed work).

Haan, mone mone chai jinisher dam ektu komuk (yes, in my heart, I would like prices to come down),” she added. Suvra Mukherjee married Pranab babu more than half a century ago.

Abhijit, an engineer from Jadavpur University and a top manager in a state-run steel maker, is soft-spoken and has a new suggestion.

“Tax returns should all be e-filed so that the workload of the tax officials is reduced and they are able to do more quality work.

“Also we should think of junior tax employees — clerks and superintendents. We can’t incentivise them with huge salary increases, at least their promotions should be fast-tracked. It will incentivise better work,” he said.

“Right now I am more into deciding what we will perform for our next programme — Tagore’s Chandalika, Chitrangada or Shyama? That’s more important to me,” Suvra said.

“Even when he was preparing his first budget in 1982, I was busy preparing for a musical soiree,” Suvra said with a laugh.