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Arnab Goswami

Fin Ministry proposes tax on free speech

New Delhi: Faced with an ever-increasing compulsion to improve revenue collections, the Union Finance Ministry has mooted a proposal to bring more items under the tax bracket, and the list is said to include speech (and other forms of popular expression) which hitherto was said to be available free in this country.

This idea to tax speech is not only expected to shore up the government revenues but, more importantly, curtail the rampant use of it (and leading to many problems) just because it is totally free.

This pioneering proposal to formally levy tax on speech and, for that matter, any other mode of expression (including sign language) has been mooted by the Union Finance Minister during his customary pre-Budget meetings with the top officials of the Ministry.

‘The problem with free speech, if you analyse closely, is it is free. Anything that is free, in our experience, is bound to be misused. For example, Twitter and Facebook,’ the Finance Minister reportedly said.

‘Now, I don’t want people interpreting that this government is against free speech, which is essentially a Constitutional guarantee. We are just opposed to speech being, well, unpaid,’ the Finance Minister is said to have clarified. ‘We are not tampering with Art -19(1)(a) of the Constitution. We are just making a technical correction of moving it and reading it alongside the provision of direct taxes’.

‘Read my lips: No, it will be waxed soon,’ the Finance Minister added for dramatic effect.

Sources in the Finance Ministry also said that apart from bringing general category speech under the tax umbrella, there is also a plan to impose a communal cess or caste cess based on the subject of the speech (or other forms of popular expressions).

According to sources, the Finance Minister has told his officials to prepare a formal blueprint of the proposals that can be circulated among the Congress’ partners in the UPA. And if they all are amenable to it, the proposal will be most likely introduced in the coming Union Budget itself.

It is learnt that the Finance Ministry has come up with three tax slabs based on the usage of speech (and other expressions thereof).

Accordingly, the heaviest users will be taxed at a flat rate of 45%. Typically, artists, filmmakers, Twitter-users, Subramanian Swamy and Arnab Goswami (the duo alone, according to a recent IMF statistic, use 27 per cent of global freedom of expression resources) are expected to fall under this category. *

The middle-level users, mostly featuring journalists (but not those in charge of editorials because they just write long sentences without actually expressing anything worthwhile) and graffiti writers will be charged at 30%.

The lowest users of free speech, the aam admi, will be charged at 10%. **

Minorities, it is learnt, may be kept beyond the purview of this tax proposal. Free speech is anyway taboo in some of those communities. ‘There is no way we are going to raise any revenue here,’ is what an official said.

Sources added that there is also an attendant provision to provide incentive to the sections that living outside the ambit of free speech so far. As of now, Manmohan Singh seems straight away eligible for this incentive. Doordarshan News can claim some relief with retrospective effect.

Exemptions are also available (under 80 C of the Tax the Talk Act) for those disadvantaged sections suffering from ‘freedom from any expression’: Yeah, this is a provision specially meant for John Abraham and Arjun Rampal.

With speech being taxed, the government hopes to have more funds at its disposal and make the country rich and developed like, say, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

(*Talking of high-end users, the Finance Ministry has created a special highest-end user category featuring Suhel Seth alone, and he will taxed at the rate of 75% based on the irrefutable logic that he has 23 opinions on any one given subject. This move alone may help the government tide over the entire fiscal deficit crisis in one shot).

(**The whole tax is structured on the lines of existing provisions, by which it is meant that the eventual calculation will be basically random).

(Disclaimer: Of course, there will be a complete tax moratorium on all kinds of spoof news. Or else we may end up taxing, well, the Budget itself)