West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday dismissed the Central Board of Direct Taxes’ claim that it had not issued any notice to Durga Puja committees this year. She said the statement was misleading, as the notices will come next year.
Banerjee referred to the “puja tax” for Durga Puja committees as “Puja jijia tax”, a reference to the “jijia” tax levied on non-Muslims in certain periods of Mughal India.
Banerjee claimed that “in the name of so-called Press Release”, the Central Board of Direct Taxes had made “certain claims which themselves prove that they are factually incorrect”. “CBDT clarification that no notices have been issued for this year makes little sense,” she wrote on Facebook. “It is only obvious that for pujas held this year, notices will only be issued next year, which is as per their scheme of tax assessment. So, the clarification itself proves that the imposition of tax very much stands. Then, why misleading?”
Urging the CBDT not to levy any taxes, the West Bengal chief minister said Durga Puja was like a national festival celebrated by people of all religions, castes and creeds. “My humble submission and appeal to the authorities would be not to impose such tax or TDS or ‘Jijia’ tax on any puja committees or any festival,” she added.
Earlier in the day, the Central Board of Direct Taxes denied issuing notices to Durga Puja committees or the Durga Puja Committee Forum in Kolkata this year. The board’s clarification came hours after the Trinamool Congress staged a dharna at Subodh Mallik Square in Kolkata accusing the Centre of sending income tax notices to the Durga Puja committees to intimidate them.
“It is unequivocally stated that the reports are factually incorrect and are strongly denied,” the CBDT said in a statement. The board, however, added that it had sent notices to 30 committees in December 2018 after being apprised that several contractors were not paying due taxes.
“This was part of an exercise carried out by the TDS [Tax Deducted at Source] wing of the Department to ensure that the contractors and event managers pay their due taxes in time,” said the board. “Many of the committees complied and furnished evidence of the Tax Deducted at Source as well as the deposit of the same into the Government account.”
The TMC and the Bharatiya Janata Party accused each other of trying to curtail Durga pujas in West Bengal. West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee claimed more Durga pujas were being held in the state under the TMC rule than under previous governments, reported PTI. She added that she does not need to prove her Hindu identity to anyone. “I know more Sanskrit scriptures than those who criticize me and question my religious identity,” she said.
TMC Secretary General and state Education Minister Partha Chatterjee said the BJP started this allegation during the Lok Sabha poll campaign. “This was completely false and politically motivated,” he told reporters. “It is the BJP government which is trying to do it now by sending IT notices to Durga puja committees. This is political double standards.”
Chatterjee added that the BJP had failed to take over the committees. “So now they are trying to threaten puja committees with IT notices,” he said. “Most of these committees conduct Durga Puja with subscription taken from locals and handful of local advertisements. We fail to understand what it has to do with the Income Tax department.”
The matter was first raised by Banerjee on Sunday when she criticised the Centre for issuing income tax notices to several Durga Puja committees. In a tweet, Banerjee had said the ruling party was not in favour of Durga Puja being taxed. “This will be a burden on the organisers,” she added. “Bangla government withdrew tax, which was earlier there, on Ganga Sagar Mela. We protest and demand ‘no taxation on Durga pujo and Durga pujo committees’.”
On Monday, the West Bengal unit of the BJP accused TMC leaders of laundering money looted in chit fund scams through the Durga Puja committees. “What is the harm if I-T looks into the money flow in Durga Puja committees?” asked BJP National Secretary Rahul Sinha. “In some puja committees, senior TMC leaders and ministers occupy important positions and use it to launder their black money looted through cut money and chit fund scams. The TMC is afraid that this link might be revealed.”
Sinha had also accused Banerjee of shedding “crocodile tears” for Durga Puja. “She should be the last person to talk about Durga Puja,” he had said. “If she is so bothered about the festival, then why did she stop idol immersions for consecutive years in order to allow Muharram processions in the state?” Sinha claimed the chief minister was more interested in appeasing Muslims than paying attention to Hindu sentiments.