Kolkata: The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal on Tuesday claimed that income-tax notices were being issued to Durga Puja committees at the behest of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government.
The autumn festival will be held between October 4 and October 8.
The Banga Janani Vahini (BJV), an arm of the Trinamool Congress, staged a dharna in central Kolkata to protest the move. Over 350 puja committees had received the I-T notices last month.
“We think the I-T letter to various Puja committees is an attack on the biggest festivities and emotion of the Bengalis, who wait for the entire year for Durga Puja. Our demonstration is to protest the act of the Centre,” said Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Lok Sabha MP and chief of the BJV.
However, the I-T department clarified that it did not ask puja committees to pay any tax. “We have not asked puja committees to pay taxes. We have asked them to deduct 1% TDS for payments above Rs 30,000 to those whom various contracts (for idol making, pandal theme ideation and execution etc.) are awarded. These people did not pay taxes earlier. If their income is not taxable, they can claim refund,” said Manas Mondal, deputy director of income tax (investigation), Kolkata.
Partha Ghosh, president of Forum for Durgotsab, an umbrella body of 353 Puja committee in Kolkata, also denied the allegation that organisers were asked to pay taxes.
“We have not been asked to pay taxes. We have been asked to inform the I-T department about payments of Rs 30,000 or above made to any person or company, so that the I-T department could investigate if the recipients of the money are paying taxes,” Ghosh said.
On Sunday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee took to Twitter to criticise the move. “These festivals are for all and we do not want any pujo festival to be taxed. This will be a burden on the organizers. #Bangla govt withdrew tax, which was earlier there, on Ganga Sagar Mela. We protest and demand ‘no taxation on Durga pujo and Durga pujo committees,” read one of her tweets.
According to Ghosh’s estimates, of the 353 committees in the city, about 50 organise big pujas and make payments worth Rs 30,000 and above to idol makers, theme designers and pandal decorators and other service providers.
Dastidar wondered why I-T notices are suddenly being served on puja committees. “What they are supposed to day — hold the puja or keep accounts?” she said. Among those present at the dharna in central Kolkata were ministers Chandrima Bhattacharya and Shashi Panja.
Reacting to her comment, Bharatiya Janata Party West Bengal unit general secretary Sayantan Basu said: “I-T department sending a notice does not mean the committees have to submit returns. Trinamool Congress is alleging unfounded things and it indicates how nervous they are.”
He also alleged that in the past, ponzi scheme companies used to donate funds to Durga Puja committees and that it was appropriate that the source of funds for the festival be known.
Rejecting these allegations, Kolkata mayor and urban development minister Firhad Hakim said, “The puja is organised using donation money or corporate funding and it is not an individual profit so how chit fund or black money is converted? It is a committee puja, how can it be converted into individual profit?”
He said that none would be associated with puja committees if they find that they have to regularly visit I-T offices.
In May, chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced the setting up of BJV and Jai Hind Vahini with the objective of protecting West Bengal’s secular traditions.
Bengal BJP unit vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar said, “The state government gives grants to Durga Puja committees, and some accounting processes, as per to the law of the land, have to complied with. Actually, the ruling party is trying to turn it into a political agenda.”
“She (Mamata Banerjee) is unnecessarily politicising the issue. The I-T department has no intention of harming Durga Puja festivities,” said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha.
West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee hit back. “Those who said ahead of the Lok Sabha elections that Mamata Banerjee obstructs organising Durga Puja in Bengal are themselves now trying to pose roadblocks to Bengal’s biggest festival.”
The Central Board of Direct Taxes on Tuesday issued a statement, saying the move “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”.
“Many of the committees complied and furnished evidence of Tax Deducted at Source as well as deposit of the same into the Government account,” it read.
(Agencies contributed to this story)
Aug 14, 2019 00:10 IST