Politicians slug it out over wealth tax victory (Punjab Newsletter)

Chandigarh, May 5 (IANS) It was to be their fight against the union government move to impose wealth tax on agricultural land falling near urban areas. But in the process, politicians in Punjab have ended up fighting among themselves for credit for getting the measure abandoned.

In a clear case of one-upmanship, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the main opposition Congress leadership are now claiming the credit for highlighting the “plight of farmers” and thus beating back the wealth tax on agricultural lands falling within an eight km radius of from municipal limits of urban centres.

After union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram announced on the floor of parliament that no wealth tax would be imposed on agricultural land, even if it was near urban areas, both the SAD and the Congress again boasted for not only highlighting the issue but also getting the tax done away with.

Though the wealth tax on agricultural land was an all-India proposal, the politicos from Punjab – IndiaÂ’s Green Revolution state that helped the country become self-sufficient in food grain production – were at the forefront of the fight against it. From the agriculture fields of Punjab to parliament, and from panchayats to the corridors of power in New Delhi, Punjab politicians were all over.

Punjab Congress president Pratap Singh Bajwa took the Akali Dal leadership head-on in the Lok Sabha, saying that the Akalis were only trying to gain political mileage from the issue.

“They are the biggest land mafia in Punjab. They are the land sharks who will benefit from the wealth tax not being imposed. We thank the Congress leadership and the finance minister for announcing that no wealth tax will be imposed,” Bajwa said.

Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who is the wife of Akali Dal president and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, raised the wealth tax issue in the Lok Sabha on a day when the house saw noisy scenes over the coal blocks scam and the Chinese incursion in Ladakh region. She claimed that Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had written to and spoken to the finance minister on this issue.

Chidambaram responded in the Lok Sabha saying: “I don’t know what he (Badal) has told you, but I have neither been contacted by him nor got any letter from him. Still, I will clarify the issue.”

The finance minister said that a section of the Income Tax Act, in force from 1993, was being misread, which led to the confusion over the imposition of wealth tax. “I am bringing an amendment. No wealth tax will be imposed on agricultural land,” he said.

Leader of Opposition in the Punjab assembly Sunil Jakhar said: “Under the guise of the so-called protest against wealth tax, Akali-BJP were trying to divert the ire of the common man of Punjab from the heavy property tax on urban residents, the deteriorating law and order situation, the politically patronised sand, land and liqour mafia, and the harassment of farmers for payment, and sale of their hard earned crops. There has also been embezzlement to the tune of several crores in centrally-funded public welfare schemes.”

For now, though, the state’s “wealthy” politicians seem to have tided over a “tax-ing” problem.

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