BJP vs Trinamool in Bengal over Income Tax notices to Durga Puja committees
At least seven weeks before the actual festivities are supposed to begin, Durga Puja has brought alive the political theatre of Bengal with the Trinamool Congress Party locking horns with the BJP over Income Tax notices sent to several puja committees.
“We think the I-T letter to various puja committees is an attack on the biggest festivities and emotion of the Bengalis, who wait for an entire year for Durga Puja. Our demonstration is to protest the act of the Centre,” said Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a Lok Sabha MP and the chief of Banga Janani Vahini (BJV), a TMC wing.
Durga Puja is set to be held between October 4 and October 8 this year.
Dastidar suggested the I-T notices were an unnecessary inconvenience. “A lot of Muslim women are involved in pith artwork (that is used to decorate the deities). Those who erect pandals are not all Hindus. Dogged by I-T notice, will the organsiers hold the puja or keep accounts?” asked Dastidar.
She also wondered why I-T notices were suddenly being served on pujas that have been held for hundreds of years.
BJP’s Bengal unit general secretary Sayantan Basu stung back: “I-T department sending a notice does not mean the committees have to submit returns. Trinamool Congress is alleging unfounded things and it indicates how nervous they are.” He also alleged that earlier ponzi scam funds were used to organise Durga Pujas and it was appropriate that the source of funds for Durga Puja was known.
At the dharna spot, Kolkata mayor and urban development minister Firhad Hakim said,
“Our agitation would continue till Centre’s attack on Durga Puja continues.” He also said that none would be associated with puja committees if they find that they have to regularly visit I-T offices.
Bengal BJP unit vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar said, “The state government gives grants to Durga Puja committees, and some accounting processes according to the law of the land have to be complied with. Actually, the ruling party is trying to turn it into a political issue.”
“She (Mamata Banerjee) is unnecessarily politicising the issue. The I-T department has no intention of harming Durga puja festivities,” said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha.
Sharpening attack on the BJP, Trinamool Congress secretary general and education minister Partha Chatterjee said, “Those who said before the Lok Sabha elections that Mamata Banerjee obstructs Durga Puja in Bengal are now trying to put roadblocks for Bengal’s biggest festival.”
On Sunday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee took to twitter to criticise the move in a series of three posts.
“These festivals are for all and we do not want any pujo festival to be taxed. This will be a burden on the organizers. #Bangla govt withdrew tax, which was earlier there, on Ganga Sagar Mela. We protest and demand ‘no taxation on Durga pujo and Durga pujo committees,” read one of her tweets.
However, Partha Ghosh, president of Forum for Durgotsab (FFD) that has 353 puja committee in Kolkata as its members, said on Sunday that the I- T department did not ask puja committees to pay taxes.
“We have not been asked to pay taxes. We have been asked to inform the I-T department about payments of Rs 30,000 or above made to any person or company, so that the I-T department could investigate if the recipients of the money are paying taxes,” Ghosh said.
According to Ghosh’s estimates, of the 353 committees about 50 organise big pujas and make payments worth Rs 30,000 and above to idol makers, theme designers and pandal decorators and other service providers.
Durga Puja had also become a centre of political controversy in the last two years.
In 2017 and 2018, the Bengal government restricted the timing of Durga puja immersion processions arguing that it was important to maintain communal harmony by ensuring that the processions of Durga immersion and Muharram did not clash.
During the Lok Sabha election campaign, BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP national president Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yodi Adityanath repeatedly attacked Mamata Banerjee for the step.