Those were the days without TV and multiplex movie theaters. Fifty years ago, there were no hotels in small towns. Even in cities that had a few hotels, the vast majority did not have money in their pockets to pay and hire a rome in them. Managing a few rupees for meeting bus fares was a big affair. Staying with close relatives and friends when visiting another place was very common. With no other source for entertainment available for either the host or the guest, the best pastime was to get busy with the children around. If there were school-going children in the households, the entertainment would be centered around questioning them on what were then considered as teasers. One of the difficult questions that was being asked was about crows sitting on a tree. "There are ten crows sitting on the tree. A person shoots down one of them. How many are remaining now on the tree?", was a very popular question. "Nine" would be an arithmetically correct answer. The guest would say "None" is the correct answer. "As soon as the shot is heard, other nine crows fly away, leaving none on the tree!", the guest would triumphantly say. If the boy or girl gave "None" as the answer, having become wise after the same test was conducted by an earlier guest, there would be other similar questions to continue the pastime.
Cricket was a popular outdoor game then as it is now. Played with a tennis ball in any available small area converted as a cricket field, kids had a great time outdoors playing cricket. But few could afford to buy a decent bat. Pieces of wood with crudely cut handles were used as bats. There were a few boys from a bit better off families who had a good bat got as a gift on some occasion like birthday. If he had three decent stumps to go with the bat and a tennis ball as well, he would be the natural captain of the team. One Balu was our captain as he had a full set of cricket gear. He was not only an automatic choice as a captain, but also made all the rules for the game. He would be the first batsman or the opening bowler. Others got their chance later on as decided by him. If you do not agree with him, he would wind up the game and go home with the bat, ball and stumps. He needed others because he could not play alone; others needed him because he alone had the cricket gear. Mutually dependent it would seem, but he always called the shots.
Medium sized towns did not have any movie theaters. Touring talkies or stage plays were the most common out door entertainment sources. Touring talkies were actually touring ones with collapsible tents and moved from town to town. One of the popular films they presented was "Satya Harischandra". In each camp that would last for a few months, last film would be Satya Harischandra. The mobile canvassing team would announce that the particular day's show would be the last. The last show would go on for several days due to popular demand. The last show was indeed fun. It was never meant to be the last one; there would be many more last shows! Everyone knew this. The tent owners knew it as did the paying public. And yet, there was always this last show!
Undisclosed income stashed in assets abroad and in foreign banks has been attracting too much of attention nowadays. So it would seem. Black money was attracting attention from time to time. Tax administration is very strict and efficient in our country. Every third rupee that we earn is snatched by the taxman before we realize it. There is also a wonderful concept called TDS. Common man has many responsibilities towards taxation; TDS, advance tax, self-assessment tax and tax in response to final assessments followed by tax payable on receipt of notices from IT authorities. But there are a few privileged for whom there is another parallel tax administration system. They are the fortunate ones and they call all the shots.
When the present Finance Minister mentioned last year about bringing stringent laws to curb black money and money stashed in foreign assets, members from all parties in parliament worried about the likely targets of such an act and insisted that an opportunity, one last opportunity, was to be given to them to come clean. Finance Minister duly obliged and confirmed that one window of opportunity would be given to them. On the first of this month Finance Ministry has announced that the window is now open. Tax evaders can now come clean on ill-gotten money. There is no need for them to worry. They have three months time, till September 2015, to make the declaration of such hidden assets. Then they have another three months, till December 2015, for payment of the taxes. And of course, this is the last chance.
Fort those with better memory, there was something called VDIS. "Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme" introduced on 18.06.1997 and closed on 31.12.1997 was hailed by the then Finance Minister Shri P Chidambaram as "very unconventional but successful scheme". The scheme was introduced for those who failed to furnish income tax returns, failed to disclose certain income in the returns filed and those incomes which escaped assessments. Those declaring such incomes were extended amnesty under the scheme. It was said to be more successful than the ministry had expected. The finance minister solemnly declared: "It is my faith, that given a chance, the people of India can come clean". An astounding number of 4,66,031 assesses declared undisclosed income of 33,000 crore rupees and the tax collected was 7,800 crore rupees. That the CAG condemned the scheme as "abusive and a fraud on the genuine tax payers of the country" is a different matter. After all, these are matters of opinions and opinions naturally differ. But one should appreciate the capacity of those who can come clean as the Finance Minister identified; they not only come clean but also have the capacity to come clean again and again. They only need repeated chances to come clean. That is all.
VDIS was not one of its kind. There were similar measures from time to time individually and collectively. Some publicized and some not so public. "The last show" has been going on like "Satya Harischandra" since a long time.
The teaser about the number of crows, the captain of the cricket team who owned the bat and ball, and last show in the tent cinema with which we grew up are all coming together again. With so much of discussion on stringent laws for undisclosed money and assets stashed abroad, those who had them would have already taken care of them like the nine crows that flew away when the shot was fired. Those with bat and ball with them indeed call the shots and are capable of influencing the nature and timing of the acts and rules. They have three months to decide what to declare and what not to declare. Then they have another three months to sell them or convert into cash when the going is good and the rates and returns are fair. And above all, they know that like tent cinema, "Satya Harischandra" has many last shows!