The Madras High Court recently imposed a Rs 1 lakh fine on Tamil movie star Vijay for trying to avoid paying tax on a high-end car he had imported in 2012. The judge gave him an earful for going against statutes despite being a reputed actor whom fans often see as "real hero". Tax evasion, the order said ought to be "construed as anti-national habit, attitude, and mindset, and unconstitutional".
"Pay the entry tax as demanded by the respondents within a period of two weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order..," Justice SM Subramaniam said. The fine must be paid to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister's COVID-19 Public Relief Fund -- also within two weeks.
In case of failure to pay up in time, the court asked the respondents -- in this case the Home Department (Transport), the Assistant Commissioner (Commercial Taxes) of the Chennai Assessment Circle, and both the Regional Transport Officer and Motor Vehicle Inspector of Chennai South -- to initiate all further actions, following the procedure.
The order came on a petition by the actor challenging the demand for payment of what he called "extraordinary" entry tax by transport authorities to register his imported car, even after paying duty to the customs department.
The judge pointed out that the petitioner, officially known as C Joseph Vijay, had not even mentioned his profession or occupation in his affidavit. The fact that he was an actor came to light only after his counsel made a mention, Justice Subramaniam said.
With a huge fan following in a state where actors have headed governments, he said, people look at film heroes as real heroes and "they are not expected to behave like a reel heroes".
"These actors", Justice Subramaniam said, portray themselves as champions of social justice, but evade tax and act in a manner that is not in consonance with provisions of the statutes.
Delving into the purpose of taxation, he said it enables building of infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, and roads, apart from helping provide pensions and set up projects for the poor.
"The constitutional goal of social justice can be achieved only if people of such stature pay taxes punctually and act as real heroes in their life," the court observed. Accumulation of wealth or possessing a prestigious car would not be of any assistance for a better life, it said.
Reputed persons, according to the court, must realise that money reaching them is from "the poor man's blood" and "not from the sky".
"A person paying tax punctually and promptly is to be considered a real hero," Justice Subramaniam said.
Its not clear yet if Vijay would choose to appeal against the High Court order. A member of his team told NDTV that "He is on a shoot. We have not received any response or instruction on that yet".
Many say that Vijay, who has a huge fan following in Tamil Nadu, nurtures political ambitions. His 2017 film Mersal ran into a controversy, taking on the health care system as well as GST. The same court had then rejected a plea to ban the film.