I know of these three close friends, Prem the Professor, Mehul the Merchant and Fahad the Factory owner in their early thirties in 1991. I was only 17 years then in a small town of UP called Saharanpur, a regular small Indian city where not paying taxes was the default culture.
Mr. Prem was a very hard working Maths professor from the local college. He also used to take coaching classes for engineering aspirants charging 200-400 INR per student. I remember his passion for teaching and helping his students clear the competitive exams. His great mentoring ensured me a rank in IIT, I will forever be indebted to him for that.
Everyone looked up-to him and believed in everything he said. He wished the best facilities for students in college but there were no funds with the college for even a good library. There was another problem, he never paid taxes on the income that he made through tuition. This income was 3-5 times more than his handsome government college salary.
Mehul on the other hand was a cloth Merchant, a very hard working and honest businessman and an idealist, his business was also running very good. However, he was very different from most people in the town. He could have easily avoided taxes like most people around him did but he believed in paying his dues to the government. He lived a peaceful life of big dreams to grow his business very big he was but mostly short of money.
Fahad had a factory on the outskirts of the town. Everyone did business with him, he worked day and night to serve the entire city. Many local workers were dependent upon his business and he used to take good care of them. The only time he would get upset was when his transport faced challenges due to bad roads or when the new flyover fell due to poor construction material. He wanted to open a very big factory but he couldn’t do so because he was not declaring his income to the government in order to avoid taxes for the past 10 years.
25 years later, Prem the professor could never upgrade his visible lifestyle because he wanted to avoid taxes, he has crores in cash but never bought a car. Now, he is running around with 500 and 1000 INR notes. His kids, settled in USA are not bothered about his problems. In fact they lecture him about paying taxes. He has crores of rupees rotting at home while the college library is still waiting for a few lakh of taxpayer’s money. However, he is still looking for ways to convert his old notes into new. He still fails to see anything wrong in his this desire to avoid taxes. He represents the normal Indian who sees nothing wrong in avoiding taxes. He might be sent to jail one day.
Mehul the Merchant managed to secure loans based on his tax returns to expand his business. He worked extremely hard and now has several big showrooms across India and he is inaugurating his 50th store outside India. His name is taken among the biggest businessman in the world. Few lakh families are now employed by his business, he is a celebrity, a fearless high flyer.
Fahad the Factory owner has no factories now. His factory was burnt several years back but he had no insurance protection. He once had a rough argument with a police officer over not paying enough bribes, who raided his house along with tax authorities to take revenge. He was caught with a lot of cash. That cash never reached the government as the policeman and income tax officer managed to consume it between themselves. That money could have been used to build those roads, his factory or flyovers.
Fahad the Factory owner and Prem the Professor are not bad people. In fact, they could have been living legends today, living their dreams but their attitude of not paying taxes to government is not only depriving the country of a better infrastructure, education, sanitation and facilities etc, it is also an impediment in their own growth. They are now stuck. They represent Millions of Indians who make a profit of over 3 Lakh INR per year but don’t pay taxes. Finally, the whole country is run by less than 1% Indians who pay taxes and even a lesser number who pay proper taxes among them.
India’s attitude of not paying taxes is not only slowing down its growth, it is also slowing down individual growth and people live in fear. Come on India – Let’s pay taxes and live happily with a great country and a clear conscience. When you pay your dues, you can fly like a fearless dreamer.