India Insight

Taxing times for reporters on the Chidambaram beat

March 14, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s drive to shore up government coffers is not just giving businessmen sleepless nights.

Just when reporters were taking a breather after filing stories based on inflation data on Thursday, the finance ministry sent them text messages about a press briefing. The recipients were supposed to rush to Chidambaram’s office in 15 minutes to cover what appeared to be a major policy announcement. After all, the finance minister doesn’t call on such short notice for chitchat.

As they raced through Delhi traffic and crossed the security cordon, many journalists were already thinking of the headlines they would write after the press briefing. With barely two weeks to go before the financial year ends, Chidambaram is racing to meet fiscal targets that will affect the country’s deficit, debt rating and more. Any slip would dent his credibility – and he is determined to collect every penny.

Thousands of tax notices are dispatched every week to scores of defaulters in a country of 1.2 billion people in which less than 3 percent of the population pays tax. Chidambaram estimates 73,388 taxpayers have defaulted on such payments, costing the government nearly 39 billion rupees ($719 million) in the current financial year.

But Chidambaram had no breaking news for the reporters. His impromptu presser was meant to request taxpayers to pay their dues before the financial year ends on March 31. The exasperated looks on the faces of some journalists summed up their annoyance. Many had abandoned their half-eaten meals and driven like mad to reach the venue.

The beaming Chidambaram also advised the reporters to pay their taxes on time. And that’s news you can use …

(Follow Rajesh Kumar Singh on Twitter @rajeshkumarsgh )

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