Taxing Times for Mother India and Her Foster Children

Posted: July 1, 2011 in Opinion

Having been in India for more than 5 weeks, and according to the state of my ever depleting bank account, I am spending more rupees than I optimistically anticipated.  After much head-scratching, internet banking and wallet folding, this Scotsman eventually discovered the cause of this pecuniary haemorrhage: taxes, taxes, taxes.

Of course, in the UK especially, we are used to being taxed: income tax, VAT, premium tax, betting tax, thumb tax, blu-tax, etc. Pain in the pocket book though they may be, we are generally aware of them as is evident by the sour look on consumers’ faces as they surgically remove their credit card from their pocket to buy something they thought they could get 20% cheaper and with 20% more salary to boot. However, in India, there are more stealth taxes than you could shake a shaman’s stick at.

The first tax to be reckoned with  is VAT. Sounds reasonable? Maybe so but this tax varies from state to state (as well as between types of goods) and is rarely included in the advertised price. So unless you have a preloaded spreadsheet programme handy, then you’ll be none the wiser until you get the bill or hear the words uttered from the seller’s mouth.

Another state sponsored tax is designed for foreign tourists. This is advertised on almost every tourist attraction from the Taj Mahal to a kiddies’ play park in Kanyakumari at the tip of India. This is proudly displayed on the painted boards outside and can be 10 times more than the locals pay. This is maybe because, as a foreigner, I would get ten times more enjoyment at these attractions than a mere local or that my heavy frame would cause ten times more damage to the sacred marble, stone carvings or see-saw and swings. There are plenty more Indian than foreign tourists in India, which is unsurprising as India is so huge and diverse in language, landscape and culture that a Keralan in Darjeeling would be infused with culture shock, as well as some excellent tea, just as forcefully as I would be.   I am glad that his tax has not inconvenienced me in getting to these places as the train, bus and air fares seem to be ubiquitous. Although, I hope a member of the Indian Railways is not reading this and gets a germ of an idea…

Driving you through the chaos

The final tax that I have encountered is the least apparent (yet retrospectively most obvious) and most varied. There’s no other phrase for it than the “obviously-a-rich-tourist-so-let’s-overcharge-them-tax” or OARTSLOTT. This can be applied to every aspect of touristic life in India and seems to be at its highest rate as soon as you leave the port of entry and into the mind-blowing world of tuk-tuks, bazaars and travel agents. The percentage that any seller will overcharge you is seemingly directly proportional to the vehemence of the look of wonderment and/or confusion on a traveller  in the face of the organised chaos that is Indian society. As the weeks pass by and the cynicism, suntan and sarcasm beds into the sun-kissed brain along with a mental ready reckoner of the appropriate charges, the weary yet canny tourist can cut their hefty taxi, hotel and sundries bills in half, saving enough to buy Aunt Agatha a pashmina shawl or set of lovely chai cups at a goverment run craft stall with fixed prices, avoiding the haggle lethargy these purchases  usually entail.

My plea to Mother India is this: please be kind to your foster children and don’t tax their hard-earned money too much; our minds are taxed enough in experiencing this wonderful country in all of its chaotic and colourful glory.


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