The India Cable: NRIs Get Tax Notices, Adani Australia Speaks Dog Latin

Plus: Nitish signs off, but not quite, name-and-shame posters of anti-CAA activists back, but no one will name China, and tigers are electrocuted

From the founding editors of The Wire—MK Venu, Siddharth Varadarajan and Sidharth Bhatia—and journalists-writers Seema Chishti, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam. Editor: Pratik Kanjilal

Snapshot of the day
November 6, 2020

Pratik Kanjilal

Nitish Kumar has signed off, saying that this election in Bihar is his last. His opponents say they knew it already. Later, it was clarified that the chief minister had meant that it was his last meeting for this election. We knew that already, too. 

Under a pall of smoke which is visible from satellites, Karnataka is banning firecrackers for Diwali and Delhi is doing the same from tomorrow until the end of November. At 7:39 pm on the evening of Diwali, when people usually start bursting crackers, the government will provide a counter-magnet attraction ― Laxmi Puja, performed by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Cabinet colleagues. Telecast live, the rituals and mantras will generate positive vibrations, says Kejriwal. 

The Mumbai Indians are in the IPL finals. After Kerala, Jharkhand has joined Opposition-ruled states Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in withdrawing the general consent accorded to the CBI to investigate cases in their territory. Fearing a shortage of essential goods in view of the highway blockade in Assam over the border row, Mizoram on Thursday began to explore the radical possibility of transporting commodities from neighbouring Bangladesh through waterways. Haryana, which includes the business hub of Gurgaon, has passed a bill reserving 75% of new private sector jobs with a monthly salary under Rs 50,000 for people from the state. Actor turned politician Kamal Haasan will contest the 2021 Tamil Nadu polls. He has been in touch with Rajinikanth and was aware of his health condition before he went public with the information.

Kerala journalist Siddiq Kappan, who was picked up by the UP police a month ago on the way to Hathras, is still not allowed to meet either his advocate or his family. This is not the Emergency Central ministers have been tweeting about. But the government’s favourite anchor, Arnab Goswami, had a good day in the Supreme Court when the Chief Justice of India on Friday stayed his arrest in a contempt case filed by the Maharashtra legislature and summoned the assembly’s secretary for “intimidating” Goswami.

The postal service will be delivering manna from heaven. Prasadam of the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple will be available by Speed Post anywhere in India during the pilgrimage season beginning on November 16. The price: Rs 450, bookings accepted at all post offices. 

In India, the Election Commission curbs pollsters for fear that they might influence voting. Now, the New York Times has published the obituary of the US polling industry, after the second election in which predictions are off across the board. To develop consistent errors, large numbers of psephologists would have to commit the same methodological blunder. They’ve done it.

And in Australia, Adani rebrands itself with a Latin name to try and leave the past behind. But it’s dog Latin and means something dreadful. Something dreadfully accurate, too, the company’s critics say. 

Caste slurs in private cannot be punished

Insults levelled at a tribal or lower caste person within the four walls of a house, with no witnesses, does not amount to an offence, the Supreme Court said, as it quashed charges under the SC/ST Act against a man who had allegedly abused a woman within her building. Essentially, the court said that the Act does not apply if there is no public humiliation, in language specifically denigrating low castes or tribes. Standard criminal law would apply. Good luck to the litigant. 

Pollution intensifies contagion

With 47,638 new infections and reports of shortages of hospital beds from different cities, India’s total Covid-19 cases surged to 84,11,724 as per the official announcement today. With 670 new deaths, the toll mounted to 1,24,985, a day after BJP chief JP Nadda said Trump messed up Covid but Modi saved Indians. Small comfort, given India maintains its global ranking of number two in case load and number three in deaths. Has the BJP president turned his back on ‘Ab ki baar?  Does this mean his party has called the US election, and Biden is in the White House?

More bad news for those battling Covid-19 and breathing polluted air, which now blankets north India. An increase of 1 microgram per cubic metre in average PM2.5 exposure raises the mortality rate of Covid-19 by roughly 11%, a group of Harvard University researchers have found. This is the latest in a series of studies conducted there, establishing that people in polluted regions during the pandemic face extraordinary risks.

No compromise, but won’t name China

Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday said, again, that India is “determined to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of unilateralism and aggression, no matter what the sacrifice”, but desisted, yet again, from naming China. His speech at the diamond jubilee seminar of the National Defence College came just a day before the scheduled eighth round of military talks between India and China about the border standoff in Ladakh.

But speaking at a media event on India’s borders and its neighbours later in the evening, Singh said that there were “perceptional differences” between India and China on the Line of Actual Control, and problems occur when China doesn’t follow agreed protocols on patrolling. He said that the current problem owed to the violation of protocols, and India cannot allow China to take unilateral action on the LAC.  

Singh promised no compromise on “seema, samman and swabhimaan” (border, respect, self-respect) without mentioning the territory occupied by Chinese troops in Ladakh. Home Minister Amit Shah followed suit in a TV interview, preferring the lofty, futuristic view of bharat ki ek inch ki bhoomi par bhi koi kabza nahin kar sakta, while ignoring the swathes of territory now lost to China on the Ladakh border since the Chinese intrusions started this year. 

Also on Friday, CDS General Bipin Rawat acknowledged that "the situation along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh remains tense". He said that "we will not accept any shifting of the LAC. In the overall security calculus border confrontations, transgressions, unprovoked tactical military actions spiralling into a larger conflict therefore cannot be discounted."

Meanwhile, China on Thursday indefinitely suspended air travel from India, barring flyers returning to the country, following a spike in Covid-19 cases in last week’s Vande Bharat Mission. And there were plenty of comments on Weibo cheering the Chinese government’s moves to bar travellers from India with gratuitous use of a racist epithet

The Long Cable   

As growth falters, taxing time for NRIs

MK Venu

India’s income tax department has found a new quarry in non-resident Indians (NRIs). Following the tax information sharing agreement with G-20 countries, implemented from 2017-18, the government is getting a lot of real time data on incomes and assets of Indians abroad, including those held in tax havens. But the tax department doesn’t necessarily have the wherewithal to locate those who may have violated tax laws. So the taxman is doing what he does best ― dashing off notices to all “suspicious” asset owners abroad. This is the only way grain can be separated from chaff, the department argues. One may recall many bank account holders in Panama and HSBC, Geneva had claimed legitimate incomes, and the tax department is yet to fully conclude its inquiry in many cases.    

The former main London office of HSBC Private Bank in London. Photo: Wikipedia

Earlier this week, the Economic Timesreported that notices have been sent to many NRIs based on new information received as part of the data sharing agreement with other G-20 countries. The tax department is essentially trying to check whether the assets owned by NRIs abroad are indeed created from incomes earned abroad. Part of the exercise is to see whether these incomes or assets can be taxed in India. According to the rules, NRIs are not taxed in India and pay tax wherever they earn incomes. However, they have to be of legal NRI status, and spend at least 184 days of the year abroad. They also have to produce proof of employment, or of specific business activities creating income and assets. 

Many rich NRIs may not be currently employed or running businesses, but may own assets by virtue of family wealth. The actual issue may lie here. In the tenure of the Modi government, data shows a big jump in dollar millionaires leaving India to seek tax residency abroad. Between 2014 and 2018, there has been a 50% jump in the number of dollar millionaires leaving India. At the time, finance minister Arun Jaitley had claimed that this was happening because of the Modi government’s strict tax compliance regime. Others attribute it to ‘tax terror’ unleashed by the Centre.

It is now well known that at least one family member of almost every medium-size business has taken tax residency abroad. The tax department could be targeting this group, and sending notices seeking information of their actual NRI status. If the NRI status, in all its technicalities, is not established, then their assets can be treated as Indian income, to be taxed in India. For instance, even if a person has fulfilled the minimum 184 days stay abroad for a tax assessment year, but does not have adequate proof of employment or business earnings, then the tax department will go into the details of their activities for the previous 3-7 years to determine their non-resident status. In short, a full decade’s income tax history of the NRI will be pulled out.

The income tax department has sent notices to investigate assets abroad dating back to 2013-14, and this may seem excessive. The tax notices cover assessment years from 2013-14 to 2018-19. Even incomes and assets created six years ago are under scrutiny. Some tax experts describe this as a mere fishing expedition based on the mass of data received by the tax department from G-20 countries. They say the department is also desperate due to an unprecedented decline in tax revenue from 2018-19 onwards, caused by the collapse of growth.   

Prime number: 34%

The percentage of people who have paid for up to half of their monthly household needs with cash, and for which they have no receipts, according to responses to a survey of nearly 15,000 people by LocalCircles, a social networking site for civic cooperation. Nearly four years after Modi’s dramatic midnight demonetisation, cash is still king.

Job candidates missing

The Modi government’s special mission to provide jobs for migrant workers has been able to spend only around 78% or Rs 38,921 crore out of its kitty of Rs 50,000 crore, suggesting that a large number of beneficiaries have returned to the cities and let go of the scheme.

The latest data on the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan, which front-loaded 25 existing government schemes for 125 days and was announced with much fanfare, also shows that it generated 473 million days of work, mostly in construction-related activities.

Colleges move towards reopening

The University Grants Commission has issued guidelines for staggered reopening of universities and colleges, which have been closed since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It suggests a six-day week and measures to ensure that at any given time, not more than 50% of all students are present on campus. The guidelines also state that cultural activities and meetings should be avoided, but sports may be allowed in accordance with Home Ministry guidelines.

Yogi names anti-CAA protestors again, HC shames government on Hathras

Posters of allegedly absconding anti-CAA agitators have come up again in Lucknow, months after the local administration had put up hoardings with pictures of some protesters in a name-and-shame campaign to realise the costs of vandalism. A major controversy had followed, and the Allahabad High Court had directed the Lucknow administration to remove the hoardings. The state government had approached the Supreme Court, where the matter is pending. 

On Friday, the Allahabad high court wondered why the UP government had not yet transferred Hathras’s controversial district magistrate. He is the senior official who decided – presumably at the request of higher-ups though he denies this – that the young Dalit woman raped and murdered in September needed to be cremated in haste even though her family had objected, triggering outrage across India.

Big cats being electrocuted

Poaching has always been a major threat in protected Indian forests. Now comes the news that no less than 35 magnificent cats ― 18 tigers and 17 leopards ― have died in the last five years of electrocution on farm fences. Monkeys electrocuted on power lines are a common sight in rural India, but it’s happening even to the most carefully conserved species ― the tiger, India’s national animal. 

Deep dive

Covid-19 patterns: Not so different after all

Data from the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh provides a detailed view into Covid-19 transmission pathways and mortality in a high-incidence setting. There was concern that reported cases and deaths have been concentrated in younger cohorts than would be expected from observations in higher-income countries, but this paper in Science, authored by Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan and others, finds that as in other settings, mortality rates were associated with “older age, comorbidities, and being male”.

Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Caught in the crossfire between the states and the Centre, the police needs to assert itself to remain true to its commitment to the law, says Yashovardhan Azad. 

Listen up

Take a break from blue, red, anticipation and a general sense of suspension. The Credit Roll by the Jamun Collective looks at the work of those who make cinema and bring some tinsel into our lives. Listen to photographer, director and screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala (Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala, The Namesake) on making films. 

Watch Out

Releasing the Kannada edition of Halla Bol, Naseeruddin Shah speaks on the revolutionary theatre man Safdar Hashmi, on loving theatre and yes, on dissent.

What’s the Latin for ‘bogus’?

The CEO of the Adani Group in Australia, which has besmirched its escutcheon somewhat, has changed his company’s brandname to ‘Bravus’. He believes that it means ‘brave’ in medieval Latin. It doesn’t. It’s just dog Latin, pinning a Latin-sounding tail to an English word. Bravus does not exist in Cassell’s, the world’s preferred Latin dictionary. Extremely rare, the word could signify a crooked thug, precisely the image that the company wants to leave behind. 

The common Latin word for brave is fortis, which is the name of another troubled Indian brand. Bravus is just bogus. Incidentally, ‘bogus’ is also dog Latin, and originally meant a currency counterfeiter’s duplicating machine.   

 That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you on Monday, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.