Be it currency shift, Aadhaar, GST, there is a mad rush; People feel cornered, vexed. Why this mad rush?
Columns, Point of View

Be it currency shift, Aadhaar, GST, there is a mad rush; People feel cornered, vexed. Why this mad rush?

July 18, 2017

Usually life gets simpler as nations progress. But not in India where a barrage of sudden changes, new rules and revised regulations are making life burdensome for ordinary people.

First, it was demonetisation. The dislocations that abrupt adventure triggered are still haunting people. As if that were not enough, a whole new mess has developed around Aadhaar. Then a bigger mess around GST. The wise men in Government tell us that it’s all simple, that it’s all good. What we know in everyday life is that it’s all oppressive.

All tax paying in India is oppressive and vexatious. In a small outpost like Hong Kong, to cite one example, there is a one-page form (that’s right, one page) for the citizen to fill up and send to a named tax officer along with a cheque. If there is a doubt, the officer will phone you and settle the matter. That simple. In our country the system is designed to sustain the Chartered Accountants of the country. Not even an educated citizen can file his tax return on his own because of the technicalities involved. The ground rule is that the tax-paying citizen is guilty until proved innocent.

In this climate, Aadhaar is turned into all kinds of things it was not meant to be. Way back in Nandan Nilekani’s days, Aadhaar looked like a decent thing — an ID card for Indians, the more sensible because it was voluntary. There was nothing intimidating about it; it merely confirmed your presence and identity in a yes-no format.

What we now have is mandatory Aadhaar. It has acquired a whole new existential importance because a citizen cannot get a passport, cannot open a bank account, cannot file tax returns, cannot buy a car, cannot even get a railway ticket unless he produces his Aadhaar. Tens of thousands of pensioners have not received their sustenance because their PF accounts are not linked to Aadhaar. Weak or infirm, they are now part of a huge rush to get the paper work done — presenting Aadhaar card, pension passbook, bank passbook and biometric details to be qualified to get their own money.

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Franz Kafka foresaw this kind of nightmarish situation where an omnipotent power floated just beyond the senses. “You go to the city to see the law. Upon arrival outside the building, there is a guard who says ‘you may not pass without permission,’ you notice that the door is open, but it closed enough for you not to see anything (the law).”

Not just Kafka, George Orwell also saw what was coming. The expanded, post-Nilekani Aadhaar violates norms of privacy and individual freedom with joyful abandon, making surveillance of citizens as patriotic as in the days of Big Brother. Orwell was cited in the Supreme Court when a petition came up against Aadhaar. Countering it, the new Attorney General, K. K. Venugopal, argued that Aadhaar had helped more than 300 million poor. Why does Aadhaar attract such contrarian reactions, Kafkaesque, Orwellian and Venugopalish? And indeed Narendra Modi-like? One month before he became Prime Minister, Modi said that in Aadhaar, “there is no vision, only political gimmick.”

Is there vision in GST? Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, who sees life in simple blacks and whites with no inconvenient greys in between, said last week that only those who avoid taxes would criticise GST. Is the Finance Minister of Telangana one who avoids taxes? For the State Minister said that GST was “impractical” because of “irrational tax rates.”

By Naidu’s yardstick, textile businessmen, small traders, hotel keepers, farmers, fishermen, petrol bunk operators, chicken traders, and a whole lot of people who are on the margins are tax dodgers. For they are all at their wit’s end over the GST complexities such as price variations and overcharging. Fishermen leading a harsh hand-to-mouth existence, are placed in the tax squeeze for the first time. How will they live during the off-season months when they cannot go out into the waters?

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In principle, GST is a good concept. As is Aadhaar. As is demonetisation. The problem is that these are not introduced properly, gradually and after giving people time to understand and adjust to wholesale changes. The Government does not seem to have learned anything from the chaos — and the deaths — caused by demonetisation. It is still in a mad rush to change the country, change the way people live, change the way people think. The wise say: Make haste slowly. The otherwise show, “no vision, only political gimmick.”

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2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Be it currency shift, Aadhaar, GST, there is a mad rush; People feel cornered, vexed. Why this mad rush?”

  1. Sam says:

    I have been reading this column since the day it started ! I see that before 2013, we had utopia and everything was picture perfect! Since BJP came to power, everything is wrong. The last government’s rule saw 100 major scams, Vadra had 18 she’ll companies , every congress politician had his hand in at least one pot of gold aka scam, still, no complaints! Lots of murderes and rapes like Nirbhaya, yet nobody called in intolerance! But when BJP took over, you see every news paper howling about intolerance! Earlier, Prices rose through the roof, but the people that mattered had the black money! Now, comes demonitization! The author says they should have given time! To what!? To whiten the black money? People died due to Demonitization! Oh yeah! The never died before! Seems, There is never a good time to do good things if it hurts the crooks. The truth is, the crooks are suffocating! If you are one of them, my sympsthies! You had your best days for 6 decades! Get used to the simple life of a common man. Just read an interesting achievement about the previous government that probably not known to our readers!
    During the congress government, One of the key Indian politician (Sonia Gandhi) complained to P Chidambaram that instead of giving interest on our Black money Swiss banks are charging 2% service Charge. So Mr Chidambaram came with a new idea. He created a new financial derivative called “Participatory Notes”. So what is participatory notes? You take rupees give it to Hawala man and Hawala man will send that to Europe. Take that money in USD and give that money to Morgan Stanley or Fidelity Investment and put that money in counter and say give me the participatory notes. Only country in the world which has Participatory Notes is India. They will give the peace of paper on which only amount will be written and then give that note to Mutual Fund and ask please invest this money (black money) in Stock Market. Because of such investment Stock Market booms and today our Stock market has become completely rigged. Because of this Middle class people are loosing money heavily.
    There was only one problem left whose solution also done by Mr Chidambaram. That if you sells that stock you have to pay 25% capital gain tax. So he suggested that if the money is coming via Mauritius route and if you create a 1$ company and if that company invests then there will not be any tax because Mauritius is a very small and poor country. Indian laws has been desinged in such a way that SEBI (Security exchange bureau of India) has been barred from asking any question about participatory notes. NSA told that Terrorists are using this Participatory notes to collect money from Stock market and using it for blowing up Mumbai.

  2. Manoj says:

    I have lived in the US for the past 18 years. One thing that has made my life easy are the following
    1. Driver license or State ID ( Or in India’s case it is Federal ID like Aadhar)
    2. Social Security ( I am assuming PAN Card# is the equivalent)

    Using my Social secuity number I can purchase a home, car etc or avail any social services offered by the US govt in any part of the country. Social Security number helps lenders like the banks to identify credit worthy customers. Using the driver license I can board a plane, rent a car or to plainly identify yourself etc without any issues.

    Not sure what is the hoopla about identifying people for security, credit worthiness , dispensing social services and voter identification needs. Seventy years is a long time to atleast get a count & details of the the demographic in the country. Until you get this right you can’t even get the budget right. Until now the Govt of India has been winging everything. Problem might be that there are many forms of identification, we just have to streamline it to two ( Social secuirty #, Driver License or State ID or Passport). Privacy is something non-existent in India, not sure whether you can use the argument to debuk the need for ID cards. Your neighbor knows what is happening in your house, we are talking about privacy. As far as GST is concerned, dont we want more people to pay taxes in India. 5-10% of the population of India carry 90%. We want more tax payers. In order to provide social services we need to know the count, what kind of needs the citizens have etc. You can’t willy nilly dispense services to people who dont need it or dont qualify for it. Author thoughts are as as confusing as the chaos. Once you clear the noise you can see through what is needed to take the country forward.


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