Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi
Photo: PTI

When quoting facts and numbers, it is perhaps best to get them right, or at the very least, to be more specific. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday found himself being criticised on social media after a video of him speaking at the Times Now Summit the previous day gained notoriety.

While the previous governments had hesitated to touch the country's taxation system, the current BJP-led dispensation was making it more citizen centric, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday, urging people to pay their dues for the development of India.

Modi added that the concern was that as some people always found ways to evade taxes, the honest got penalised.

"All governments hesitated to touch the tax system. We are making it citizen centric.... India has become one of the very few countries to have a transparent taxpayers' charter that will clearly define the rights of taxpayers. I want to assure you that tax harassment will be a thing of the past in our country," Modi said.

He lamented that when a number of people did not pay tax and found ways to evade it, "the burden falls on those who honestly pay their dues".

The prime minister said it was unbelievable but true that only 2,200 people in the country had declared earnings of Rs one crore per annum.

"In the last five years, more than 1.5 crore cars have been sold in the country. Over three crore Indians went abroad for work or travel. But the situation is that only one-and-a-half crore people in our country of more than 130 crore pay income tax," Modi added.

Twitter was quick to try to fact check the PM, with many claiming that there were a lot more taxpayers than the Prime Minister believed.

To quote a PIB press release from October 2018 that cites data from the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), "There is a growth of more than 80% in the number of returns filed in the last four financial years from 3.79 crore in FY 2013-14 (base year) to 6.85 crore in FY 2017-18."

The number of people filing return of income, the release added, had increased by about 65% during this period from 3.31 crore in FY 2013-14 to 5.44 crore in FY 2017-18.

Coming back to the Prime Minister's second claim that only 2,200 people in the country had declared earnings of Rs one crore per annum, the CBDT in 2018 had had slightly different figures.

From 88,649 taxpayers disclosing income above Rs. 1 crore in AY 2014-15, to 1,40,139 for AY 2017-18, the total number of taxpayers (including corporates, firms, HUFs, etc.) showing income of above Rs. 1 crore had risen sharply.

The number of individual taxpayers disclosing income above Rs. 1 crore also increased during the period under reference from 48,416 to 81,344.

BJP IT cell Chief, Amit Malviya however was not having it. As he clarified, the PM "specified 2,200 ‘professionals’".

Responding to a comment by MK Venu, the founding Editor of The Wire, he wrote, "The other day you quoted former CMs of Delhi, when none are alive, to make an argument against the BJP. Today again you are making a fool of yourself by misquoting what the PM said... He specified 2,200 ‘professionals’ but why let facts come in the way of your hate propaganda?"

Later on Thursday, the Income Tax department took to Twitter to issue a clarification.

"During the current financial year, 5.78 crore individuals filed returns disclosing income of financial year 2018-19. Out of these,1.03 crore individuals have shown income below Rs 2.5 lakh & 3.29 crore individuals disclosed taxable income between Rs.2.5 lakh to Rs.5 lakh. Out of 5.78 crore returns filed during this financial year,4.32 crore individuals have disclosed income upto Rs 5 lakh," the IT Department explained.

With the Finance Act, 2019 exempting individual tax payers having income up to Rs 5 lakh, only around 1.46 crore individual tax payers are liable to pay income tax, the body clarified.

This is not the only instance where Prime Minister Modi's comments have come under the scanner in recent times. Speaking at the Lok Sabha recently, he quoted a satirical article to justify the detention of J&K politician Omar Abdullah.

"Omar Abdullah had said that the abrogation of Article 370 would bring a massive earthquake and will divide Kashmir from India. Farukh Abdullah had said the removal of Article 370 will strengthen the road of freedom for Kashmiris," the BJP Twitter handle quoted the speech to say.

Tracing the comment back, many soon realised that the Prime Minister had been quoting a 2014 article by a sitirical site called 'Faking News'.

Abdullah for his part had mentioned that "long after Modi Govt is a distant memory either J&K won't be part of India or Art 370 will still exist", the day before the fake news article was published.

However, this seems to be the closest he has come to expressing such a sentiment.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Free Press Journal