Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax in Kolkata C P Bhatia is not just a taxman by profession. He thinks tax even in his leisure time, his hobby being researching the history of taxation. He’s still collecting material for a possible book, though the exercise, he insists, is in the preliminary stages. In an interview with Ishita Ayan Dutt, Bhatia talks about his research that led him to discover the grave of James Wilson, the man who introduced India to taxation in 1860. This being the 150 th year of Wilson’s death, Bhatia has written a small pamphlet on the father of taxation and played a leading role in the restoration of his grave.
What draws you to research on the history of taxation?
This is my hobby. I was previously in the training department and used to prepare training modules so naturally, I had to read a lot and was particularly interested in the history of taxation.
When was the first Income Tax Act enacted?
It was in 1860, then 1886, 1918, 1921, 1961. The present Act dates back to 1961 and is modified year after year depending on the direction of business that the government wants to adopt.
What does your research show on how taxation in India changed?
Can you cite some differences in taxation during the British period and now, in terms of the documents?
Now we call for a lot of details that were not required during the British period. In the British period there were different forms for property income, business and so on. Now we have only one form. For the property income form one would have to provide details of all lodgers in the house.
How did you stumble upon James Wilson’s grave?
I came across a gazette that said that James Wilson died on 9, Middleton Street. During that period bodies were buried within 50-100 km, so I visited all the nearby cemeteries and inspected their records. I finally found his tomb very close to my office, then in Chowringhee Square. With the permission of the Christian Burial Board, the tomb has been restored.
What is the main source of your research?
The National Library is my biggest source. I have come across various documents at the library, that I have noted down. I have visited many libraries in the various towns in which I have worked like Dhanbad and Jamshedpur. Some day maybe I will make a collection of this wealth of knowledge and have it published.