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Budgets of yesteryear

During Nirmala Seetharaman’s Budget speech in the Lok Sabha on February 1, amid the customary thumping of desks, my heart missed a beat when the TV screen flashed relief for those above 75 years of age from the age-old harassment of having to file the income tax return (ITR). In my experience, it is not a single-shot epidemic that visits a senior citizen once in a year; it is something that one has to live with right round the year, keeping track of various items of income and expenditure. But the euphoria soon evaporated when the small print of the red herring was laid bare. However, later the realisation dawned upon me that at least my wife will be spared the year-end recurrent visits to the bank to ensure that the TDS on fixed deposit interest income had been uploaded to get reflected in Form 26AS.

When I look back in time, I recall that during the first few years of my service, I did not face the hassle of having to file a formal income tax return, which now I have been denied even after crossing the momentous milestone of 75 years, by a quirk of fate. The accounts branch used to disburse my take-home salary in cash after all the deductions. I only ever used to be asked to sign a certificate that there were no other sources of income and the rest was left to the authorities to decide. I did not, in effect, have to file the year-end tax return. Additionally, I reluctantly invested ₹25 or thereabouts in the statutory provident fund, on which the current Budget proposals have imposed a supposedly unconscionable ceiling.

With the money in hand being just about adequate to meet our bare necessities, I never bothered about the budget, which used to be presented at 5 p.m. on the last day of February then. I am sure, many similarly placed individuals today, with no tax to pay or surplus to invest, are equally unconcerned about the portmanteau.

My family and I were quite happy then, though the salary did not stretch to cover the whole month, especially the last week of the month when we used to move around with our piggy bank (in the shape of a used oblong powder box) in tow, in which the change received back from sundry purchases used to be stored.

Memories of those "no-return" days inevitably go back to the period when my wife joined me a few months after our marriage in Nizamabad district, now in Telangana, where I was being trained. One of the reminiscences, permanently etched in our memory, pertains to my first official house assistant.

Before her arrival, his main duties were confined to sprucing up my sparsely furnished living room, which was part of the District Collector’s residential complex, and getting me my "daily bread" and monthly quota of cigarettes. When she came into the picture, he was required to get the groceries and vegetables with the money she gave him, while I continued to requisition my cigarettes with his assistance. One day, he took a significant amount of money from both of us for our respective requirements and disappeared. Soon enough, we came to know that the wife of the gardener of the Collector was also missing. My personal assistant had eloped with her, which created an unsavoury, though temporary, hierarchical rift. The wife of my assistant and the husband of the gardener approached us for succour, which, to our eternal regret, we were unable to provide or even vaguely suggest the obvious option available.

Coming back to the present, I am not unduly unhappy about having to file my income tax return. It keeps me grudgingly busy and also provides an opportunity to meet people purposefully, without giving the impression that in order to while away my time I am wasting theirs.

(The writer is a former Secretary-General of the Rajya Sabha)

vkagnihotri25@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 1:23:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/budgets-of-yesteryear/article33828244.ece

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