note demonetisation

Demonetisation: Income Tax notice to Catholic Church in Goa kicks up a political controversy

The Archdiocese of Goa was given less than a day to provide details of cash in hand.

An Income-Tax notice sent to the Archdiocese of Goa last week following the Union government’s decision to withdraw high-value notes earlier this month has created a political stir in the state that is scheduled for Assembly elections early next year. The state Opposition has said that the notice shows the Bharatiya Janata Party’s biased attitude towards minority institutions.

The notice gave the Archdiocese less than a day to furnish, among other information, details of the cash balance, and the number of demonetised notes the Goa Catholic Church and its affiliates held as on November 8, when the government’s demonetisation policy was announced.

The request was dated November 18, which the Archdiocese received on November 21 – the very day it was expected to furnish the details sought. It was made under Section 133 (6) of the Income-Tax Act.

An Archdiocese is the word the Catholic church uses to refer to an area for which an Archbishop, a senior priest, is responsible. All of Goa’s Catholic churches come under the Goa Archdiocese.

Details of cash in hand

Though the Income-Tax notice is one of several sent to trusts and religious bodies in the country following the demonetisation announcement, in Goa, the department has been accused of singling out only the Archdiocese.

“If the government is asking a religious institution to furnish financial details in a day, it reflects on the government’s attitude towards minority institutions,” Congress spokesman Sunil Kawthankar told Scroll.in. “We have seen the attitude in the past as well.”

The notice from the office of the assistant commissioner of Income-Tax (Exemptions), Circle- 1, based in Mangaluru, seeks several details from the Financial Reorganisation Fund of the Archdiocese of Goa.

The notice says a Central Board of Direct Taxes direction seeks urgent information about “cash balances with trust/society/AOP [Association of Persons] etc. Hence, you are required to furnish the details of cash balance held by your trust as well as all institutions and branches etc under your trust as on day 8th November 2016.”

It further sought a “self-attested copy of cash book of all the institutions as on 7th, 8th and 9th of November 2016”, balance as on March 31, and a declaration of the number of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes held by the Fund and its affiliates as on November 8.

Need more time

“The Fund files its returns regularly,” said a church insider with knowledge of the workings of the Archdiocese. “We will comply with all their requests. But we have asked for more time to submit the same as it is not possible to collect and collate the information from over 100 affiliates in a day’s time.”

Meetings have already been called within the Archdiocese to organise the data collection, which will involve all state’s parishes – the small administrative districts into which the Archdiocese is divided.

Catholic churches usually take a cash collection during weekly Sunday services. This money is used for maintenance, charity and other related purposes by the church administration. Following demonetisation, the weekly cash collections have reportedly dropped possibly due to a perceived scarcity of low-denomination notes.

‘Singling Church out’

Local English daily The Goan, questioned why only the Church was picked for the notice. It published a report on Saturday that pointed out that Income-Tax authorities had not asked any of the prominent religious bodies of other faiths in the state to declare cash in hand and cash book entries.

In an editorial on Saturday titled, In Bad Faith, the newspaper asked why the government was not looking at places where black money was traditionally spent.

  “Is there anyone in government to tell us if letters have also been sent to the casino industry, for instance…The onus is now on the I-T department to prove that it is approaching the black money issue with an even hand. It has to show and prove that it is looking in the right places and not using the law as a tool to harass religious institutions”.  

Though reports have also pointed out that Hindu temples in particular have not received any such Income-Tax notice, this is possibly due to the fact that many temples do not come under the Income-Tax Act under which the notice has been served.

On Sunday, Shantaram Naik, a member of Parliament from the Rajya Sabha from Goa, expressed his surprise that the central government was “selectively target[ing]” Goa churches and said that churches in the state should be exempt from Income-Tax just as Hindu temples were.

Following the demonetisation announcement earlier this month, a clutch of firms and individual offices in Goa, including a mining firm, were searched by Income-Tax officials. These raids have been creating a stir in the poll-bound state with supporters of the Opposition parties particularly hard hit.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach

We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.

According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.

Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:

Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.

The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:

Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.

Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.

BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.