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End the sport of abusing tax exemption
May, 18th 2007
At the height of her career over a decade ago, Steffi Graf, an all-time great among tennis players, faced charges of tax evasion from German tax authorities.

The story ended with Steffis dad Peter spending time in jail after she said that her father had been the financial manager, handling all the earnings of the tennis star. The charges against Steffi were dropped only after she agreed to pay a fine of a million dollars or so to the government, besides a contribution to charity. Another famous tennis star, Boris Becker, also was fined by the German tax department after he was also convicted of charges of tax evasion.

Elsewhere, cases abound of celebrities such as movie and baseball stars, besides singers, who have run foul of the tax hounds. The script has been the same in all such instancesthe tax authorities have had the last word, emerging like the Indland Revenue Service as ruthless enforcers of the law irrespective of the status of the violator.

Expectations of such an even handed treatment to those who violate any law in India are fairly low. Therefore, the excitement generated for a day by the media on an adverse remark by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the tax exemption granted to Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar, among others, may have been overdone.

The reference is to the tax waiver that Tendulkar was granted in 88-89 on foreign currency remittances received by him for sporting endorsements. A tax deduction was allowed on the grounds that he was an artiste. CAG, however, did not concur with the tax officer's interpretation. It said that the deduction was not in order since sporting endorsements and other activities are not eligible for tax breaks (under Section 80 RR of the Income Tax Act).

Many years ago, when the government first granted this tax break to sportspersons, artistes, playwrights, musicians and authors, it was done without any distinction on their income levels. So this tax break could be claimed by any sportsperson or artiste irrespective of their economic status.

To get the tax break, the beneficiaries had to provide a certificate, along with their income tax return. The certificate was meant to prove to tax officers that the deduction had been claimed according to the norms laid down under the relevant provision of the Income Tax Act.
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