The new Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is in favour of hiking up the income tax exemption limit. He has spoken many times about increasing the limit from Rs 2 to Rs 5 lakh. His logic is quite interesting: raising the income tax ceiling will not have any negative impact on the government's revenue collection. Rather, he says, it will contribute to the government's move to collect more revenue. This is because if the income tax exemption limit is raised from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, three crore people will save more money. With more savings in the pockets of ordinary folk, purchasing power will increase which, in turn, will increase VAT and excise duty and hence revenue. Hiking up the income tax exemption limit can, therefore, serve both people and the government as well.
Our Finance Minister AMA Muhith, however, thinks differently. He is in favour of keeping the same the income tax exemption limit. In the proposed budget for FY 2014-15, he has proposed that the threshold of taxable income of individual tax payers will remain the same, Tk 2.2 lakh. Even at a press conference he held the next day after placing the proposed budget in parliament, the finance minister said he had wanted to keep the ceiling the same for the next 10 years. He could not proceed with his idea as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had not agreed with it.
Keeping the income tax exemption limit same for the next one year is unjustified. The finance minister did not do justice to people by making such proposal. Ordinary people are already struggling to earn more to meet the increasing cost of living. The price of almost every daily essential is on the rise day by day. Now the finance minister has decided to force people to pay taxes on the additional money they are earning in order to pay their ever increasing bills. Ordinary people will have to suffer more as some commodities will be costlier and they will have to pay more in the form of VAT and other duties in addition to the marked up prices of the commodities themselves. Will Muhith's proposal encourage people to give income tax or force them to dodge the tax?
The proposed budget, however, will get passed easily in parliament. MPs who claim to be people's representatives will speak little about this proposal. One or two MPs belonging to the handmaiden main opposition bench may speak about it. But their voices will not be able to shake the brute treasury bench. One thing is almost certain that the main opposition Jatiya Party will not go against any of the proposals stipulated in the budget. Some Jatiya Party MPs who were made ministers must defend the budget in the parliament as the budget has been approved by the cabinet and it is the duty of every minister to stand by the cabinet decision collectively. It is beyond expectations that ruling AL MPs will criticise any budgetary proposals. So, the marathon discussion on the proposed budget will finally yield no positive result. Rather, MPs participating in the budget discussion will use the parliament floor to launch scathing verbal attack on the opposition BNP that has no representation in the current parliament.
Some ministers and the ruling Awami League leaders have also made it clear that they would not tolerate even any constructive criticism to the proposed budget. In their eyes, the proposed budget is of course people-oriented. In a surprising development, AL General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam, AL advisory council member Suranjit Sen Gupta and some others have already questioned the BNP's right to criticise the proposed budget. This makes one wonder: Is the budget only for those who support the AL-led government? Isn't it a national budget, then?
In defence of collecting more revenue, the government however has said that it will carry out various development activities which will benefit people. However, people now urgently want the government's intensive attention to save their lives from the greed of unscrupulous traders who are mixing poison in foods to make money. The government's move to check formalin-tainted fish, fruits and vegetables in the capital and elsewhere in the country is very weak. It has moved to check only formalin, but those contaminated with other chemicals will remain untraced. The government does not have time to waste. It is legally bound to ensure the safety of public life. It has no other alternative, but to act without any delay.
If the government needs funds to take and implement comprehensive measures, it may ask or impose fresh taxes in the proposed budget to this effect. How much money does the government need to act vigorously to save people from this danger? If it is more money that is needed to keep these poisons from entering into our food, the finance minister should come up with a proposal to do so and declare an immediate war on the adulteration of foods.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.