Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
When we were in school more than half a century back, we were taught that “Honesty is the best policy”. The phrase and its implications were hammered into our heads by our conscientious teachers. I am talking about the time when India was under British domination and English was treated as a very important subject, though we were studying in a vernacular-medium school. Actually there were no English-medium schools in that era. The teachers always advised us to be honest and said that the honest people were always rewarded by God. At that time we did not know much about honesty, since there was not much dishonesty around. But at the fag end of life I have realized that the phrase “Honesty is the best Policy” makes good rhyme, but bad logic, if we consider the attitude of the present bunch of administrators in various departments in our country, towards the ordinary law-abiding citizens of the country.
The honest tax-payers regularly pay tax for the commodities, which are listed as taxable. For instance, the responsible tax-payers pay tax on water for the supply of this precious commodity, though it happens to be a free gift of God to sustain life on this good earth of ours. The administrators perhaps believe that some tax on water, consumed by the residents will stop wastage of this essential commodity. No doubt it is a very good and positive thought. But does the honest tax-payer really waste water? The bonafide citizens in many areas of the city, who pay tax for water, often complain that they have to go without water for days together. Occasionally even if the water trickles down for some tins, it is not enough for the day. Hence either they have to buy water from private suppliers at an enormous price or install their own tubewells. Most of the residents who can afford have done that while others, who cannot afford to install a tubewell, have to go in search of water with empty buckets in their hands at the crack of dawn. They realize that they must procure water either by begging or by stealing. As such the bonafide tax-payer cannot possibly waste water. Actually the hotspots of water wastage are those, where there is no question of paying tax, namely road side hydrants and taps, which are left open all day. But the consumers there have neither any identity nor any address that is they are not listed in the GMC records. So it is the poor honest person with an identifiable address, who is the target of the tax-collectors, although he regularly pays his taxes.
In case of electricity, it is the domestic consumer who has to cope with frequent hikes in rates. On the top of that, the ordinary man suffers from frequent bouts of load-shedding. He has to buy a generator set or an inverter, of course if he can at all afford, to cope with load-shedding, braving the wrath of the neighbours for polluting the atmosphere with smoke. He may not have electricity for hours together, yet the electricity bill soars higher and higher with each passing day. And the drooping shoulder of the poor consumer droops further. It is always the bonafide law-abiding consumer who suffers the most, while no one dares to touch the privileged consumer, because he has the necessary protection despite all those warning about disconnection in case of non-payment of bills in time. If the regular honest bill-paying consumer goes out of town with his family for a couple of months, he might happily think that this time his electricity bill would be for a lesser amount. But he has nothing to be sanguine really, as the sudden drop in electricity consumption may give rise to all sorts of suspicions regarding his integrity, which might eventually lead to temporary disconnection. What is more, he may have to pay a hefty fine for reconnection for no fault of his.
The honest tax-payer faces countless problems. He suffers more if he happens to possess some property in the fashionable area of the city. The property might have been acquired by his grandfather or great grandfather long time back. But the authority concerned will not care for that. He has to pay tax in the existing market value. Of course, the authority does not bother that the roads in that fashionable area are used as parking slots for vehicles making life miserable for the residents. The pavements in those areas may have turned into mini markets and some portions of the road may have become dumping ground of garbage, which are left there for months on end. The stinking garbage is not only hazardous to the health of the residents, but they also present an ugly side of the city. The poor tax-payer, having the property in that so-called posh area must pay tax for the existing reputation of the area, both in terms of property taxes and land tax.
Regarding motor vehicle road taxes one might be pardoned for asking what roads we are taking about. Now the city is riddled with flyovers. So we may be charged a flyover tax in the near future. The existing roads in most of the areas may be called roads by courtesy. They are pot-holed and get muddy, slushy and watery during the rainy season. Only the vehicle-owners know what problems they are facing in driving through the chaotic traffic. The situation is worse when the roads are flooded during the rains.
What about the telephone department? The instruments have become purely ornamental in Guwahati homes. For the VIPs the situation is different, but for the ordinary people the instrument creates unforeseen problems. Even if you have not used the instrument for weeks together, you have to pay a large amount of money for calls you never make. Writing complaint letters is a waste of time, as it elicits no positive response. The strangest part is that even after paying all the bills you may be in for a rude shock when a computerized voice tells you that unless you clear all the bills your phone will be disconnected.
But with the advent of mobile phones our landline telephone problems have luckily disappeared, since most people depend on mobile phones. In all the sectors it is the same old story. It is the honest tax-payer who has to take the worst beating. Black money can be washed to turn it into white with the blessings of the officials of the department concerned. The honest tax-payer does not even merit a passing thought from the officials of the various departments.
Life of the honest person has become unbearable with the meagre income they make. Inflation in our country can shoot beyond our imagination. And the prices of all the commodities, including petrol and diesel, are rising higher and higher with the grim warning that they may rise still higher. Yet our leaders and rulers are apparently unconcerned about the lot of the honest commoner.
Simple arithmetic can easily point out the disparity between the earning and expenditure of the common tax-payer. The dishonest people have no problem – since they do not depend on their salary. Actually I have heard that they earn in a day more through the back door than what they officially earn in a month. They have posh buildings, servants, sleek cars and all the luxuries. But the honest citizen, who may earn the same salary as the other one, goes through a life of drudgery. At home or outside he is the object of scorn for his stupidity and inability to earn more money. He has to count every rupee he spends, as he depends only on his honest income and still he becomes the target of various unsympathetic officials in diverse departments.
That is the life of an honest citizen, who depends on his approved official salary and pays all the taxes in time. It does show that the word “Honesty” has become merely a jumble of alphabets without any comprehensible meaning – at least in our country. It is no use thinking piously that God will reward the honest person sometime in future, perhaps in the next life. The honest person is the object of ridicule at home and outside. He is treated with contempt and is considered a misfit in the present society.
The family regards an honest person as incompetent and useless for survival. Others consider him stupid. All these factors force us to doubt the validity of the statement that honesty is the best policy. Yet I must say that though honesty does not give us material benefits, it does bestow on us spiritual happiness. An honest person can never feel guilty, since he is aware that he has done no wrong. So I feel that it is the road to happiness from the spiritual aspect. Hence we have to agree that for gaining spiritual peace and happiness it is right to assert that honesty is the best policy. As Alexander Pope has remarked, “An honest man is the noblest work of God”.