Congress leaders from Punjab and Haryana on Monday extracted an assurance from union finance minister P Chidambaram that no wealth tax would be imposed on agricultural land.
The development dashed efforts of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab and opposition Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in Haryana to make political capital from the Centre's move to amend the Wealth Tax Act to redesign contours of wealth tax imposition on farm land.
The Akali-BJP government in Punjab has already convened a special session of the assembly on May 3 to discuss the issue and pass a resolution in the House. The INLD had on Saturday demanded convening of a special session of the Haryana assembly.
Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, warning that there could be "a conflagration of social disorder, anarchy and economic crisis" in the event of wealth tax being levied on agricultural land. Badal had also sought the finance minister's intervention on the issue.
Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who led a Congress delegation of union ministers, MPs and MLAs from Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Odisha and Delhi, said: "The finance minister has assured that he will make a statement on the floor of Parliament on Tuesday while replying to the finance bill and no wealth tax will be imposed on agricultural land, whether within municipal limits or outside."
The CM said Chidambaram would speak in the House to quell any misunderstanding on the issue.
Congress MP Deepender Singh Hooda told HT that the delegation convinced the FM on the issue. "This is a historic decision," he said.
Punjab Congress chief and Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa told HT: "We have done our part. However, we want to convey to the Punjab government to go on with the special assembly session. Now, the state government should withdraw the imposition of property tax and the increased power tariff. Also, we want this special assembly session to be converted into a thanksgiving session for the central government and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi."
Besides the Haryana CM, Bajwa and Deepender Hooda, the delegation included union information and broadcasting minister and Ludhiana MP Manish Tewari; union minister of state for external affairs and Patiala MP Preneet Kaur; other Congress MPs from Punjab Santosh Chaudhary (Hoshiarpur), Ravneet Bittu (Anandpur Sahib) and Vijay Inder Singla (Sangrur); Rajya Sabha MPs from Haryana Dr Ram Parkash and Shadi Lal Batra; party MPs from other states, Bhakta Charan Das (Kalahandi, Odisha), Sandeep Dikshit (East Delhi), Jyoti Mirdha (Nagaur, Rajasthan) and Harish Chaudhary (Barmer, Rajasthan); and Punjab MLAs Sunil Jakhar, also Leader of the Opposition in the assembly, and Jagmohan Singh Kang.
The delegation submitted a representation urging the union finance minister on behalf of the Congress to "intervene for withdrawal of the proposed amendment, and issue a clarification to the effect that urban land does not include agricultural land, and no wealth tax is liable to be paid." The delegates also requested Chidambaram to issue administrative directions to the income tax department not to issue fresh notices seeking payment of wealth tax on agricultural land.
The Haryana CM said Chidambaram reiterated that the UPA government was committed to the policy of protecting interests of farmers and therefore nothing would be done against their interests. "He stated that if necessary, due procedure would be adopted so that no wealth tax is imposed on agricultural land," Hooda said.