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March 6, 2013

Charity status for Education

Education is no more a charity, it is a big business. Despite earning huge income, most educational institutions enjoy tax exemption since they are registered as charitable trust.

Dear Finance Minister,
This is not regarding your budget. It is about a big tax avoidance scam that is not a scam simply because it has the sanction of the law of the land. You have also made it clear that tax evaders are being sent notices and they better declare incomes and pay tax. But what do we do about tax laws that allow tax avoidance or evasion it really does not matter. What matters is the country is being taken for a ride.

Most educational institutions are registered as “charitable trusts” in our country and because of this all their income is exempt from tax. What a noble idea indeed Sirji! May be this was fine at the time of independence. In that era there were mad people who were running educational institutes as a patriotic duty.

Things have changed beyond recognition since then. Now education is a big business. Many politicians have jumped on this bandwagon because it is a great vehicle to grab land free or at throw away prices all over the country. Many private institutes and even universities have sprung up which are covertly or overtly backed by politicians of all hues. This is an admirable quality amongst your clan, you fight with each other constantly, ostensibly for the good of the country and we the unfortunate citizens, but when a money making opportunity arises you close ranks.

As I understand that an institution is charitable only as long as it is doing charity of some kind. Educational institutes that charge huge fees and run professional courses and do this with a clear motive of profits, have no business to be called ‘charitable’. There are institutions that make crores of rupees by conducting entrance examinations and sale of prospectus. Is this charity?  Should this income not be taxed?

It would be interesting to see what percentage of fees collected by such institutes is spent on academics! In one institute I was told the ratio of payment to faculty to total income was about 2%! What happened to the balance? What charitable things were done? No student gets concession in fees, there are no freeships for poor students either. And best of all many of these institutes are big borrowers, borrowing money from banks to build buildings and to buy computers and books as required by AICTEA.

Now one hears some of these fantastic temples of education do not pay salaries to their employees on time. In Pune I have heard that Sinhgad Institute and Indira Institutes fall under this category. IIPM is a classic case, it does not pay salaries on time, and it even has courage to pay one year’s arrears to their visiting faculties by issuing11 post dated cheques to be deposited at the rate of one cheque per month! And unfortunately we have professors who are willing to go through this humiliation! The faculty and staff have no guts to protest as they fear loss of arrears plus loss of job. This is nothing but exploitation. And Mr Minister the majority of the staff in such institutes may be women! So forget your “Nirbhaya Fund”, how about protecting women who are getting exploited in this organized trade called education?

One reason for thriving of such institutions is the craze for a degree among Indians. That a degree increases the price of a bridegroom in marriage is a proven fact. As a matter of fact many of my students have accepted this and some have even said that we come all the way to Pune and spend so much money because it is an investment that delivers manifold returns once we sell ourselves in the marriage markets!

Sir, this is nothing but money making and profit making business. Schools also are no exception. A play group in a school for two-three year olds who go to school for three-four hours only charges Rs30,000 per year! On the other hand there are government-aided schools where fees are not revised for 25 or more years! Girls irrespective of their parents’ economic status are provided free education in Maharashtra. These girls are dropped to school in chauffer-driven high-end cars! Undergraduate aided colleges charge laughable fees. The students don’t attend classes in college which suits the professors who are overpaid after the Sixth Pay Commission bonanza with no evaluation of performance and guarantee of no punishment for non-performance! These same students attend private coaching classes and pay 10 times more fees to attend them! Many professors in aided colleges actually put in more hours as visiting faculty and were reportedly making more money than their salary. This is an open secret. They are actually not allowed to do this, but then who cares?

So Sir, a humble request education is no more a charity, it is a business that only needs political patronage, which is available in plenty at a cost of course. Please plug this loophole in your taxation policy. And please make sure that the tax is imposed retrospectively, something that you are so fond of! Here is perfect opportunity to do that, which may actually get you even many votes from those who have suffered for years, so it is even politically winnable in an election year!

Prof Anil Agashe

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