The finger prints of the country’s neta-babu brotherhood are all over the tragic death by suicide of Coffee Day tycoon V.G. Siddharatha on July 29. In a suicide note, Siddharatha wrote that all his efforts to pay off an insistent venture capital firm by liquidating his assets had been thwarted by officials of the country’s notoriously venal and extortionist income tax department. Anyone who has done business in post-independence India will have no difficulty in believing that accusation.
From post-mortem media and other investigations, it’s clear that the IT department had frozen a sum of Rs.3,000 crore that Siddharatha had raised by selling his equity in the well-known IT firm Mindtree Services, to pay off the VC firm and a tax demand of Rs.650 crore raised by the IT department. However instead of facilitating this sale, the brain-dead babus of the department blocked it “to protect the revenue”, killing a golden goose which would have yielded continuous revenue.
Your editor who has experience of the insolence of the IT department has no hesitation in believing Siddhartha’s dying declaration. Way back in the 1990s, your editor somewhat naively produced an expensive pilot talk show video for the consideration of Doordarshan. Inevitably the Rs.2.50 lakh pilot video didn’t merit even a one line rejection letter. But the unkindest cut was that an ITO (income tax officer) refused to allow the cost of producing the video as a deductible expense and froze my bank account. Fortunately the heroic efforts of my accountant Ashok Rao to file an appeal and get a hearing within 15 days saved me from Siddhartha’s fate.
Years later when your serial entrepreneur editor having failed to raise any domestic funding to get EducationWorld off the ground, fortuitously raised it abroad, it took the Foreign Investment Promotion Board — chaired by P. Chidambaram now in a soup of his own making — 12 months to grant its mandatory permission for the investment amount to be credited to the holding company’s account. Ease of Doing Business in India? Don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much.