Views & Reviews
Menace of Tax
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]ax has always been a hot button issue within the government, between political parties and among the people. Tax drives the economy and can also drive it to the hole. It is the lifeblood of the government and can also be the cause of its downfall. It is so basic to one’s wellbeing that every citizen has a point of view to make, or push. The points are so multifarious that they clash, generating heat and sometimes turn explosive.Anyone who talks or writes about tax in a prescriptive tone is treading on dangerous ground. He can be mail-bombed, buried in an avalanche of criticisms, or simply rapped till he zips his lips. So, we may tread safely by giving a descriptive account only, if at all we must talk about it.
Tax, as we know in Nagaland, looks like a clone gone bad, as if its creators misread the manual showing the intricate mechanics that go into a system with a simple name – tax. An illegitimate birthing resulting from a chaotic genetic tampering, its DNA test got lost in a mess of stringy, look-alike double helices that left it fatherless, stateless.
The one thing obvious to us is that its muddled origin may be traced by a fickle etymological descent to a period when the word “tax” assumed a dangerous synonymy with on-demand giving to a singular, nationalistic cause. By the time it was taken to mean thus it had diverged from the normal evolutionary course by a millennia. And now, tax is a “business-killing” money spinner snugly nested in the hands of anyone who can scribble out a demand note, a cushy job as easy as a drive-by grenade attack.
So, how do tax kill business, how do you bite the hand that feeds you? We tread again the dangerous ground to where the antecedent conditions lay.
First, the movement for sovereignty took a beating when it broke up into factions. But the factions remained potent, each possessing enough political and fire power to strike back with a force so lethal that all of us, even the movement itself, could be annihilated if let loose upon each other. And you had to pay tax to several factions instead of to one. So your contribution to the nationalist cause was diffuse and burdensome. Secondly, the administration of taxation got off hand and sinister clones of the first clone appeared on the scene which succeeded in hacking into the system.
Renegades, dropouts and drifters were quick off the mark to bring full employment to themselves in the new-found profession of tax collection. They simply needed to key in “nationalism” and it worked. The dread of what these elements could do to you was greater than a certain percentage of your gross pay or your working capital. It was always wiser to dig deep into your pockets and keep the peace than be the wise guy who would say nahobo.
To rub salt to the bruised trade and commerce, a business syndicate was formed that sounded the death knell for those that were out of the loop. It was a profit maximizing method for members of the syndicate, which threatened to minimize the majority small businesses. Business environment sank to a dog-eat-dog anarchy where survival depended not on your business acumen but on your ability to forge connections and alliances with shady characters. An anti-trust law would have blushed crimson impotently.
Tax also came disguised in an array of legit-sounding union collections. Every line of business had two or more unions jostling for a commanding position. Business owners found themselves members of several unions by automatic enrolment. They had to give to the collections, some yearly, some monthly, some daily, some even several times a day. Some when they crossed some makeshift gate, some when they loaded a truck, some when they unloaded it, some when they had just hunkered down by the roadside and before a single sale is made. A rickshaw-wala might just have to flash his yellow receipt at the guy lurking in the next bent in the road instead of saying, Do me a favour and leave me alone; I haven’t got a day’s job worth making two payments.
The market for union still seems bullish. Faceless union office bearers need only do some nifty printing job and they are in business – print bundles of receipt booklets that would put the RBI to shame for its monetary policy of printing only a calculated number of currency notes. And when the day is done and hefty customs have been squeezed out of the long-suffering members, truck unions rub shoulders with thela unions in the exclusive club as they toast to the welfare of their members. Could a hawkers union or a rag pickers union also join in and croon a merry tune about keeping their members happy with their lot? It’s a situation so exploitatively attractive that even revenue-generating government departments are also getting in on the act. Allegedly.
Dimapur provides the right medium for parasitic elements to flourish. The city is a melting pot of all manner of people: the rich and powerful, the John and Jane Doe, the dream hunters and the urban drift. A mass of interesting characters with the astonishing heterogeneity of a rickety rickshaw labouring alongside a slick honda city; the squatter and the landed gentry who wouldn’t think twice about carving an acre or nicking an inch off supposedly empty land at the slightest opportunity; the sly chap who would beg, borrow or steal to get rich fast and the jet-setting crore-patti who is also a wholesaler, a trader, a small-time politician and a gentleman farmer; the artless business owner who has just downed his shutters and the adroit businessman who has the power to jack up the price threefold with a devastating ripple effect and blame it on illegal tax. Pardon the representation in caricature.
It happens only in Dimapur. Well, almost. But the effects ripple to the outer reaches of the state, felt all the more acutely in the kitchen in some hilly town where the housewife, or the househusband, wakes up one morning to find the humble potato has gone upmarket overnight, as whimsically as the volatility of the upwardly mobile price rate commanded by the powerful syndicate who hold all the aces in this trade. We who live elsewhere, far and away from the heat, dust, and heartache in the city, have no time to empathize with the city’s residents for what they are going through because we are too busy sympathising with ourselves for what we are going through ourselves.
Then came ACAUT. It was launched with missionary zeal and with such energy that it gained momentum in no time and swept us off our feet. We were riding the crest of victory over evil when it ran aground, its agenda of economic sovereignty having collided with that of political sovereignty. Did ACAUT misrepresent a cause or was it misrepresented? It would be unpatriotic to take sides or sit on the fence. There’s a middle ground that could have neatly accommodated the two agenda because they are not competing; they are complementary. Meanwhile, you continue to live out the reality of a crude object called tax clobbering your business.