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Getting the Oscars home may be taxing
February, 24th 2009

Slums can become skyscrapers but, doggone it, some things never change fast enough. Like our laws, which clearly havent factored in India's new topdog role. And the latest victim of that could be AR Rahman, freshly annointed the music king of Hollywood. While the two Oscars he won for Slumdog Millionaire should be priceless, our eagle-eyed government officials have found out that each gilt statuette is actually worth $500 which makes the second one liable to be charged customs duty!

This lacuna, with its huge embarrassment potential, however, has been spotted in time by a fellow Tamilian, home minister P Chidambaram, given his long innings in the finance ministry. He has promptly made a recommendation to exempt Rahman from the outdated rule that allows Indians to bring a paltry Rs 25,000 worth of duty-free baggage into the country. It is hoped that Pranab Mukherjee, now handling the finance portfolio, already has his officials working on a clarification. Jai Ho! But why should Rahman be in this predicament at all?

Well, at $500, each Oscar is worth Rs 24,870 (taking $1= Rs 49.74), which puts Rahmans baggage at around Rs 25,000 above the permitted duty-free allowance presuming there are no other take-ways from this historic event. Mr Chidambaram has thought of that too.

Rahman may have to pay Rs 8,925

IF the Oscars carry a cash award, I will recommend to the finance minister that it should be exempt from taxation, he said at the foundation stone laying ceremony of Rajaswa Bhavan (where top tax officials will have offices), at which Mr Mukherjee was also present.

But if things dont move fast enough, Mr Rahman will have to pay customs duty at the rate of 35.7% on the value of one Oscar, totalling Rs 8,925. Admittedly thats peanuts for the music maestro, but the government will find it tough to explain the blanket application of an arcane law. More so, since sportspersons who represent India at international fora are now given duty exemption, like Sachin Tendulkar.

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