West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has criticised the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government for sending a tax notice to the Durga Puja Committees Forum, a body of festival organisers in the state. In a statement on Monday, Banerjee accused the saffron party of “doing politics of vengeance and divisiveness”.
“They create divisions on the basis of religions, and between Bengalis and non-Bengalis during elections,” the Trinamool Congress chief told reporters at the state Secretariat in Howrah. “When elections are over, they threaten Durga Puja organisers with getting them investigated by agencies.” Banerjee said the BJP must first learn to win people’s hearts as they cannot be captured like electronic voting machines. The Trinamool Congress has often accused the saffron party of winning the General Elections by manipulating and capturing voting machines.
The tax department sent the notice to the Dura Puja organisers’ forum last week, asking it file returns on expenses incurred during the festival. “The Durga Puja committees collect donations from common people and also seek sponsors to organise the pujas,” PTI quoted Banerjee as saying. “They do not do it from their earnings. So, where is the question of filing IT returns? This is an insult to the pujas.”
Banerjee said the festival was a social function and not a commercial one, and pointed out that the government had certain social obligations. “The Durga Puja committees also generate thousands of employment opportunities during this time,” the chief minister added. “I feel so bad about the manner in which they are being harassed by the IT Department. I feel devastated.”
Responding to Banerjee’s criticism, BJP National Secretary Rahul Sinha asked why she was worried. “Is she afraid that some ugly truths might come out?” he asked. “The fact is that several of her party leaders have swindled crores of rupees through chit funds via a few puja committees. It will come out if proper investigation is held.”
Sinha alleged the Mamata Banerjee-led administration had “tried to stop” Durga Puja because of to vote-bank politics, and asked the chief minister to stop lecturing others.
On December 21, the Central Board of Direct Taxes had sent a notice to Durga Puja organisers and asked their representatives to report to its office. The following month, Banerjee told the committees not to provide their expenditure details to the tax department.