Fatehgarh Sahib MLA Kuljit Singh Nagra was the only one who gave his consent in writing to Vidhan Sabha that he would pay his income tax.
Two years after Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh appealed to legislators to pay their own income tax to ease the burden on the state’s strained exchequer, just one — Fatehgarh Sahib MLA Kuljit Singh Nagra — has volunteered to do so on the salary drawn from the government.
Information procured by The Indian Express under the Right To Information (RTI) Act has revealed that the Congress MLA was the only one who gave his consent in writing to Vidhan Sabha that he would pay his income tax.
The RTI further states that the state government pays through book adjustment, an amount of Rs 52.04 lakh annually, on account of MLAs’ income tax.
In February 2018, Amarinder had during a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on finances, announced that he would lead by example and the entire Cabinet would pay their own tax. At the same time, he had appealed to elected representatives of the state to follow suit and save Rs 11.08 crore annually for the exchequer.
The CM had said it was only in Punjab that income tax of MLAs and ministers is paid by the state government, adding that it would lead to saving Rs 11.08 crore, which the state could then use for various important development works and implementation of welfare schemes, many of which are facing serious hurdles due to paucity of funds.
While ministers and Leader of Opposition (LOP) pay the income tax on their salaries, MLAs still enjoy tax-free salaries and allowances. Out of an elected House of 117 members, having 18 ministers including the CM, an LoP, the income tax of 97 MLAs is paid by the state government. The Vidhan Sabha has 80 Congress MLAs, of which 18 ministers and lone MLA Kuljit Singh Nagra pay the tax. AAP has 19 MLAs, of which LOP Harpal Singh Cheema pays his tax. SAD-BJP have 14 and 2 respectively, and Lok Insaf Party (LIP) have two MLAs.
When contacted, Nagra said, “I had written to the Vidhan Sabha last year that I want to pay my income tax. They said I could not do so as I needed permission from the government. I then wrote to the Finance Department. They gave me permission in writing. Now, I am paying an income tax of Rs 80,000 per year on my salary. I volunteered as I thought when the CM had made a call, we should do so. But I am sad to see that the Badals and Bikram Majithia, who are the richest Sikhs, have not volunteered.”
Punjab Vidhan Sabha has several nationally known leaders as MLAs, including former five-time chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, SAD’s Leader of House, said, “We are willing to pay our own income tax. They should do the tax deduction at source. We will never object to it. But we have never received any communication from them asking us to pay our own income tax. We are ready to say this in the House.
The state is already funds crunched and we are willing to say that they can keep our salaries to do some development works.”
Simarjit Singh Bains, chief of LIP, said, “I will come and meet the Speaker on Monday and volunteer to pay my income tax. I have been paying Income Tax of my private companies. What stops me from paying this income tax also.”
Cheema expressed surprise that no AAP MLA had volunteered. “We have a party meeting tomorrow. I will take it up on agenda now. We will honour this appeal. We will do it,” he added.
Tax-free perks While the ministers and LOP pay income tax on their salaries now, the state government pays the income tax on perks given to them. The perks include plush ministerial bungalows in the prime Sector 2 of Chandigarh.
The government, which had earlier amended The East Punjab Ministers’ Salaries Act, 1947 in 2018, allowing ministers to pay their income tax, made another amendment in the law providing for the government to pay income tax for perks. It had defended the step by saying that all perks also get included in the tax ambit of the ministers, which in some cases resulted in the tax liability turning out to be higher than the salary itself.