Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya

Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya
Speeches & Writings

 The Income Tax and The Taxable Minimum


In proposing the following resolution of the fourth Indian National Congress Held at Allahabad in 1888 Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya said :


"That as the administration of the income-tax especially as regards incomes below Rs. 1,000, has proved extremely unsatisfactory, it is essential, in the opinion of the Congress, that the taxable minimum be raised to Rs. 1,000."


I think, gentlemen, I need hardly say much commend this resolution to your acceptance. This as you all know, specially the respectable poor man’s resolution. The other and larger reforms that we are seeking will no doubt conduce as much to the welfare of the poor, as of the rich. But the effect of this measure, if the Government would only accept it, would be to relieve immediately a large number of poor but respectable people from injustice and oppression. The Congress will not, I hope, be misunderstood in accepting this resolution. We do not object to the income-tax itself; all that we desire is that the taxable minimum should not be so oppressively low as it is, When Lord Dufferin taunted us, in his presidential oration at St Andrew’s dinner, with not representing the country, because we did not ask his Lordship to decuple the income tax, he quite forgot that first Congress that met at Bombay distinctly stated that, if the then increasing expenditure could not be met by reductions, the necessary additional revenue should be obtained by extending the license tax to those classes of the community who were till then exempt from its operation. In other words, it was the Congress that first advocated the re-imposition of the income tax. (Cheers) His Lordship himself complimented the Congress as “that body of intelligent and patriotic men” when he cited their authority in support of his income tax scheme; but, though we approved and desired the imposition of the income tax on the rich, or those who could not afford to pay it, we did not want it to become an engine for harassing the poor,  and if only Lord Dufferin knew half as much as we do of the injustice and oppression practiced on the poorer classes of the people in connection with this tax, and, gentlemen, if he knew how wide and deep is the discontent that is consequently spreading in the country, I am sure that, instead of quizzing us as he did for not proposing an increase in the tax, he would have unhesitatingly raised, as we have advised, the taxable minimum to Rs. 1,000. (Cheers)


The taxable minimum at present is, as you very well know, Rs. 500 (34 Pounds), i.e., less than one-fourth of what it is in England (150 Pounds). But, as if this were not a sufficient ground for compliant, in actual practice, people whose incomes do not go beyond Rs.15 a month, or say Rs. 180 (12 Pounds) per annum, are often enough taxed as though their income reached the legal minimum of Rs. 500. Official apologists may deny that this is a true representation of facts. But I am confident, gentlemen, that if an honest, independent enquiry were instituted, and the evidence of non-official gentlemen obtained, my assertions would be amply bear out by their testimony. We do not for a moment insinuate that it is the desire of Government that the poor should be thus oppressed, or that the taxable minimum should in practice be reduced so much below the amount fixed by law. The fault apparently rests on the shoulders of those officers who are entrusted with the duty of assessing and collecting the tax. But, gentlemen, very perfunctory manner in which revising officers hear and dismiss appeals lends colour to the popular belief that the burdensome oppression and injustice that they groan under is practiced with the tacit approval of Government. I shall only quote here one instance to show how unbecomingly the tax is administered, and how some Government officials help, by their thoughtless conduct, to bring our Government into disrepute. Everyone knows how poor a man a grain-parcher is. He earns his daily bread by exposing himself to a blazing fire even throughout the hottest months of summer. One would imagine that the tax-collector would pass by such uninviting victims. But that unhappily is not the case. I am sorry to say, and I have it on the best authority, that in some cases the tax has been imposed on even such miserable men as grain-parchers; and what is more painful to have to record is, that the revising officers, instead of exempting such men from payment, have on appeal confirmed the assessment made by their subordinates, In the particular instance that I have just now in my mind, the revising officer ordered the grain-parcher to produce his books, and so prove that his income was not what the assessing officer had imagined it to be. Fancy a grain parcher keeping books: You might as well expect a beggar selling lucifers in the streets of London to keep books (loud cheers). But this official would insist upon the books being produced, and that being impossible, as the books had naturally no existence, he compelled the poor man to pay the amount assessed Tell me, gentlemen, what can bring Government into greater disrepute than such incidents? And bat we, therefore, pray to Government, is, that it may raise the taxable minimum to Rs. 1,000, so that at least persons whose incomes fall below Rs. 500 may be removed sufficiently far from the pale of the tax-collector’s harassment. This we urge, gentle men, primarily out of regard for the sufferings of the poor, but also in vindication of the good name of Government (Cheers). It is needless for me to dilate further on this resolution. I have no doubt that it will meet with your ready approval and, I venture to hope, with the favourable consideration of Government. (Cheers)


And now, gentlemen, before I resume my seat permit me to refer for a moment to a subject which though not connected with the one entrusted to my humble advocacy, is yet of such vital importance as to justify a momentary digression—I mean the Proclamation of 1858. It is not at all surprising to find speaker, after speaker, from our worthy President downwards, referring to that great charter of our rights and privileges. This is the keystone of the arch which supports all our demands. Therein our gracious Sovereign, under whose benign government we assemble year after year to deliberate upon our common wants and to formulate our common grievances, our gracious Sovereign whose pictures now hang, round in, shedding, as it were, some faint reflection of her kindly and motherly influence on our deliberations (Loud cheers) :—therein, gentlemen, our most noble Queen of England and Empress of India solemnly extended to us pledges the fulfillment of which we now pray for. I refer to it here simply to denounce with all the strength I can, command the false and foolish utterance of a high official that the promises therein made were made more as a matter of policy than in honest good faith. I hold, in my hand an extract from Her Majesty’s private letter, dated Babelsburg, August 15, 1858, in which Her Majesty gave instructions to Lord Derby to draft that Proclamation, and I will, with your permission read it to you. (Loud cheers.) It runs thus:-


“The Queen would be glad if Lord Derby would, write it (the Proclamation) himself in his own excellent language, bearing in mind that it is a female Sovereign who speaks to more than a hundred millions of Eastern people on assuming the direct Government over them, and after a bloody civil war, giving them pledges which her future reign is to redeem, and explaining the principles of her Government. Such a document should breathe feelings of generosity, benevolence, and religious toleration, and point out the privileges which the Indians will receive in being placed on an equality with the subjects of the British Crown and the prosperity following in the train of civilization.” (Loud and continued cheers.)


Who in his senses, gentlemen, could fail to be struck with the ring of sincerity and beneficence that echoes throughout these sentences? (Prolonged cheering.) And yet we find some exalted personages foolish enough to cast a doubt on the sincerity of Her Majesty’s promises. Well, gentlemen, perhaps it was to give the lie to such faithless men that the Queen Empress reiterated her solemn pledges on the memorable occasion of her Jubilee (Cheers) in responding to the Bombay Jubilee Address, Her Majesty was pleased to say that “it had always been and would be, her earnest desire to maintain answervingly, the principles laid down in the Proclamation published on her assumption of the direct control of the Government of India.” (Cheers) And, gentlemen, when we ask for an increased share in the administration of our affairs, whether it be as members of the Legislative Councils, or of the Public Service, Civil or Military, what more do we want than that the pledges so graciously given should be as graciously redeemed? And we hope and trust they will be soon redeemed. (Cheers.)


With this slight digression, gentlemen, for, which I need scarcely apologize to you, considering the universal importance of the subject, I beg to invite your acceptance of the resolution that I have had the honour to lay before you. (Cheers.)


Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya