The existence of a four-decade-old law that makes the Uttar Pradesh government pay the income tax of all ministers has come as shocker to many, even though some political leaders say they never knew about it.
The Uttar Pradesh Ministers' Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Act, 1981 provides that the chief minister and his council of ministers don't dip into their own pockets to pay income tax.
The amount goes to the Income Tax authorities from the state exchequer - year and year.
"There is an act existing from 1981 during VP Singh's time. Whatever is being done is in pursuance with that Act," Uttar Pradesh Power Minister Shrikant Sharma said on Friday.
"In times to come, we will look into any suggestion about what best can be done in this regard," he added.
The law, enacted when Vishwanath Pratap Singh was the chief minister, has been in force during the terms of 19 chief ministers and about 1,000 ministers so far.
The chief ministers who saved on their taxes have been from across parties -- including Yogi Adityanath, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, Kalyan Singh, Ram Prakash Gupta, Rajnath Singh, Sripati Mishra, Vir Bahadur Singh and ND Tiwari.
For the last financial year, the state government paid Rs 86 lakh as the ministers' tax bill, a senior finance ministry official said.
A section of the Act says, "The salary referred to in sub-sections (1) and (2) shall be exclusive of the tax payable in respect of such salary (including perquisites) under any law relating to income tax for the time being in force, and such tax shall be borne by the state."
It was argued in 1981 that the state government should bear the income tax burden as most ministers were from poor backgrounds and had meagre incomes, a Congress leader and a colleague of the then chief minister VP Singh said.
But over the years, the state has been led by leaders like Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati who is worth Rs 111 crore as per her affidavit for the Rajya Sabha polls in 2012.
Another former chief minister, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, owns assets worth over Rs 37 crore together with his wife Dimple, according to the affidavit filed for the recent Lok Sabha polls.
According to the affidavit submitted for the Legislative Council elections in 2017, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's assets total Rs 95,98,053.
Senior Congress leader and former MP, PL Punia said the provision doesn't seem right and needs review.
"The salaries have gone up several times and there appears to be no relevance for this relaxation. It needs reconsideration and withdrawal," Mr Punia, who was principal secretary to Mayawati when she was chief minister, said.
Many like BSP leader and former UP finance minister Lalji Verma said they were not aware of the law. Mr Verma said as far he remembers he used to pay his own taxes.
A Samajwadi Party leader said he is not aware of any such relaxation for ministers and will be able to speak on it only after discussing it with senior party leaders.
The state's Law Minister Brijesh Pathak said he will be in a position to speak on the issue only after getting it verified from his officials.
Social activist Anil Kumar said the news is a shocker for the common man who pays large sums in taxes.
"Why should he bear the burden of those who have all the benefits. Like all of us, they should also pay for themselves instead of putting an extra burden on us," Mr Kumar said.
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