July 05, 2016,
Stuffed animal heads adorn the walls of Kunwar Vikram Jeet Singh’s mansion on the outskirts of Delhi, and he also owns a three-bedroom apartment in a gated condominium in the city. His children go to one of India’s most exclusive private schools. Yet Singh doesn’t pay income tax because he’s a farmer.
Singh is one of thousands of rich landowners who don’t need to pay taxes thanks to laws designed to help the hundreds of millions of poor farmers who scratch a living from India’s soil. Worse still, some people are buying agricultural land to avoid paying taxes by declaring their earnings as returns from farming, opposition lawmaker Sharad Yadav told parliament in March. Citizens declared about $29 trillion worth of agricultural income in the year through March 2011. That’s almost 15 times the value of India’s economy.
The figure was the result of a Right to Information request by a former tax officer Vijay Sharma, who says the number is probably a computation error and should be closer to 1 percent of GDP or $20 billion.
“The large farmers are clearly gaining,” said Shweta Saini, a consultant at the Indian Council on Research on International Economic Relations, a Delhi-based think tank. For smallholders, “whatever you are producing, you are eating.”