Kolkata: A month ahead of Durga Puja, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the second time asked the Puja Committees not to pay any income taxes. “I would like to tell all the Puja Committees not to pay any income taxes. We are fighting against this directive of the Income Tax department. We don’t charge taxes for any festivals. If the Ganga Sagar mela will be tax-free, then why will we pay tax for celebrating Durga Puja,” Mamata said while chairing an administrative and coordination meeting with the Puja Committees at Netaji Indoor Stadium.
The Chief Minister also announced a grant of Rs 25,000 which was Rs 10,000 in 2016. Additionally, the state government also gave a 25% discount on total electricity bills and withdrew addition charges from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and for fire-fighting licenses. “Also, I would like to request all the VIPs not to visit puja pandals in a blue beacon fitted cars after 5 pm as this causes lot of difficulties to the common people. I would also request Puja committees not to issue any VIP passes this time. Puja is for everybody and everybody will enjoy it equally,” she added.
Mamata and BJP have been at loggerheads over the allegation that the Income Tax department is issuing notices to Puja committees asking them to explain their expenses. Earlier this month, Mamata claimed that Income Tax department is not even sparing the ‘purohits’ (priests), dhakis (traditional drummers) and artisans despite a top IT officer rubbishing the allegations terming them misleading. “We have not issued any tax notices to any of the Puja committees and Durga Puja Committee Forum (an umbrella body of a section of puja associations) in Kolkata. Some people are raising their voice but it is not true. The report is factually incorrect and we strongly deny it”, the IT officer in Kolkata had said.
On the context of idol makers, idol buyers, dhaki, and priests, he had said, “TDS is not applicable to idol makers and idol buyers because the purchase is outright. I want to clarify that ‘pranami’/payment to priests, dhaki (drum artists) and payment to idol makers, buyers will not fall under section 133(6).”
He further said, “You will be surprise to know that out of 42 puja committees (from whom we sought information on payments under section 133(6) of the Income Tax Act, 1961), five are already following this TDS norms for years and seven have started complying it. The others 30 too assured their cooperation and on their request we have organized an outreach program to clear all the confusion…This was part of an exercise carried out by the TDS wing of the Department to ensure that the contractors and event managers pay their due taxes in time.”