Somewhere around the end of the last Millennium a group of theatre practitioners met in a seminar under the aegis of India Habitat Centre to discuss the various problems faced by Amateur Theatre. Among others, it was attended by Kirti Jain, Rajendranath, Jalabala Vaidya, Gopal Sharman, Arvind Gaur and Joy Michael. The then Entertainment Tax Commissioner, Gyanendra Srivastava, was one of those rare officers of the Government machinery who was very receptive and positive about finding solutions to those problems. He responded by writing to the then Police Commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma. He informed him about the seminar held at IHC attended by
distinguished people from the art fraternity, where one grievance was repeatedly voiced. The grievance related to NOC by the Entertainment Tax Department, which is insisted upon by the local police and traffic police before permission for staging an entertainment event is granted by the police. Clarifying that NOC is a measure to ensure that due Entertainment Tax had been paid, he went on to add, that there were certain events such as Drama performances including ballets, operas, dances, music, puppetry shows and classical and folk songs by a society registered in Delhi, which are exempted from Entertainment Tax, provided the admission fee is a maximum of 500 rupees.
Unknown to many, this exemption has been in force since 18th August 1998, vide a notification by the Government of Delhi of the same date. The notification lays down that for the exempted performance as enumerated above, only a prior intimation about the show is required to be given to the ET Dep’t. In accordance with the above the Department acknowledges the intimation given by such organizers. However, apparently the local police and traffic officials sometimes insist on the NOC. It is clarified that the NOC is required only in respect of performances that are not covered by the above notification. In performances exempted by the notification, any proof of intimation sufficed. Srivastava further clarified that as a measure of transparency
his department had gone on the internet and acknowledgements for exempted performances were issued on the internet also. He added that even the printouts of the same as a computer generated letter without signature would also be acceptable.
In the Department’s Web site it is claimed that “Entertainment tax exemptions are granted liberally to plays, ballets, etc.. In spite of granting liberal exemptions, the revenue collection by the department has been increasing every year”. Well, a part of that statement is true. Indeed, since 1994-95 the annual revenue of the ET department has gone up from 30 to 50 crores, but, at the same time, the number of shows which were exempted from entertainment tax has gone down from 96 to 35. So obviously, even as per the Departments own statistics, the tax exemptions are not liberal, they have in fact come down to one third!