The Archdiocese of Goa, which is responsible for all Roman Catholic Churches in Goa state, received a notice from the income tax department sparking off a controversy in the state that is poll bound next year.
A letter sent by C B Suresh Kumar, Assistant commissioner of income tax (exemptions), Mangaluru, to the financial reorganization fund of the Archdiocese of Goa and central fund of Archdiocese of Goa and Daman, required that the Archdiocese submits information regarding cash balances with its institutions.
The enquiry was initiated by the Income Tax department, Mangaluru, seeking details of various institutions which come under the Archdiocese of Goa.
Mr. Kumar’s letter was quoted by the Indian media: “The central board and direct taxation (CBDT) has directed to collect urgently information regarding cash balance with trust/society etc. Hence, you are required to furnish the details of the cash balance by your trust as well as all institutions and branches under your trust as on November 8, 2016,”
“You are also required to furnish self-attested copy of the closing entry of the cash book as on November 8, 2016, including a photocopy of the cash book along with the declaration should be submitted to this office by return post and balance as on March 31, 2016′.” The letter additionally specified.
The letter, dated 18 November 2016, which was received by the Church on November 21, required that the “scanned copies of relevant pages of cash book and declaration should be emailed to this office by November 21, 2016,”
The Archdiocese of Goa was further directed to declare the number of notes of the recently demonetized currency i.e. Rupees 500 and Rupees 1000 notes, held by them on the day of 8 November 2016, the day when the demonetization was announced by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Specifying the consequence for noncompliance, the letter which was made under Section 133 (6) of the Income-Tax Act, said, “Any failure or delay in furnishing the information will resulted in penalty proceedings without further notice,”
The Archdiocese which has over 100 institutions maintained that it will furnish the details requested, but said that it will seek time to do the same as it was impossible to comply with the request within a day.
There was widespread concern and condemnation of the letter issued by the Income Tax department, particularly of the “less than one day” limit for compliance.
The opposition, particularly the Indian National Congress was quick to condemn the move by the Income Tax Department. Trajano D’Mello spokesperson of the Congress told the media that “the objection is not to the notice being issued but the manner in which it was done.”
“How could the government ask the Church authorities or for that matter any other religious institution to submit details of its finances within a day,” he said.
D’Mello alleged, that this move of the Income Tax department, “clearly goes to show the hidden agenda of the Modi government towards the minority institutions in the country.”
Local media particularly, The Goan, a local newspaper questioned as to why only the Church was picked for the notice. The Goan published a report pointing out that “Income-Tax authorities had not asked any of the prominent religious bodies of other faiths in the state to declare cash in hand and cash book entries.”
The Church meanwhile, has complied with the directives of the Income Tax department and has submitted the details as required on 25 November 2016. Fr. Luscio Dias, the Episcopal Vicar, told the ‘Navhind Times’ (a local newspaper), “There is nothing to worry about. The Church has a proper method to count money collected during Sunday masses. Three people count the money after each mass. Thereafter the entry is made into account books and these people authenticate the entries by signing the books,”
He informed the media that all the churches submitted the documents as sought by the I-T department to the economic wing of the archdiocese, which in turn submitted the same to the department.
Hindu temples in Goa state are exempt from income tax as they are governed under the Mazania Act. The government takes care of all their accounting.