India has a lot of challenges ahead of it whose solution requires capital. Lots of capital. This capital is going to have to come from taxes. But in this regards, India also has a lot of challenges. The most significant of which are:
Despite rapid economic growth in recent years, India is still one of the poorest countries in the world as only 15 countries have a lower gross national income per capita. Officially, 30% of the population is below the poverty line as defined by the Tendulkar Committee Report (2009) which clarified the official poverty estimation methodology and set the poverty line at Rs 32 per person per day in urban areas and Rs 26 per person per day in rural areas at 2011 prices, which is approximately 52 US cents in Urban areas and 46 US cents in Rural areas at the end of 2013. This line is so low that it is actually a destitution line that does not ensure anything above bare subsistence. If we use the international poverty line of $1.25 US per day as defined by the World Bank, then almost 33% of the population is below the poverty line and if we define the poverty line at $2.00 US per day, which is barely above subsistence levels in many of the bigger urban areas, then almost 69% of the population is poor!
- Unequal Wealth Distribution
The top 1% own 16% of the country’s wealth, and the top 10% own 53%. India has three of the 100 richest men in the world, and the richest man in India is worth almost 22B, while the second and third richest men are worth about 17B and over 11B, respectively. This says the three richest men are worth about 50B in a country with only 1.8 Trillion in GDP and that they alone represent a net worth that is about 2.8% of the overall economy.
- Import Duties
India does not charge, or often forgives, import duties on certain types of materials and products that could provide a considerable contribution to the economy, even if the duties were kept low with respect to the rest of the world, and it does a poor job of collecting import duties on some categories that it has stated it will make an effort to collect import duties on. For example, the annual “Revenue Foregone” statement released by the Finance Ministry estimates that India lost RS 529,432 crore (97 Billion) in 2011-2012, or more than 5% of India’s GDP and nearly 67% of total tax collections in India in 2011-2012! (Source: IndiaSpend) This included almost Rs 66,000 crores of customs duties foregone on “diamonds and gold” alone. Any one, or any business, that can afford to buy diamonds and gold can certainly afford to pay a small import duty! And the duty is small — in India, the import duty on gold is a mere 2%! (In the US, the duty and taxes for gold jewelry can be up to 5.5%.)
In other words, India has the situation where:
- Approximately 2/3rds of its population cannot afford to pay tax.
- Almost 1/3rd of the remaining population that can afford to pay tax is extremely wealthy, influential, and able to influence the government that sets the tax rates.
- The government, unwilling to deal with intense complaints or publicity when it tries to collect, or raise, import duties is giving up over 40% of its potential current tax base.
For a country that can’t even address the basic needs of its population, how is it ever going to address its infrastructure, energy, and global economic challenges if it doesn’t stand up and collect taxes where taxes are due?