H.M. Patel – 1978 Budget

It is a matter of general belief that taxes on income and wealth are of recent origin but there is enough evidence to show that taxes on income in some form or the other were levied even in primitive and ancient communities. The origin of the word “Tax” is from “Taxation” which means an estimate. These were levied either on the sale and purchase of merchandise or livestock and were collected in a haphazard manner from time to time.

In India, the system of direct taxation as it is known today, has been in force in one form or another even from ancient times. There are references both in Manu Smriti and Arthasastra to a variety of tax measures. Manu, the ancient sage and law-giver stated that the king could levy taxes, according to Sastras. The wise sage advised that taxes should be related to the income and expenditure of the subject. He, however, cautioned the king against excessive taxation and stated that both extremes should be avoided namely either complete absence of taxes or exorbitant taxation. According to him, the king should arrange the collection of taxes in such a manner that the subjects did not feel the pinch of paying taxes. He laid down that traders and artisans should pay 1/5th of their profits in silver and gold, while the agriculturists were to pay 1/6th, 1/8th and 1/10th of their produce depending upon their circumstances. The detailed analysis given by Manu on the subject clearly shows the existence of a well-planned taxation system, even in ancient times. Not only this, taxes were also levied on various classes of people like actors, dancers, singers and even dancing girls. Taxes were paid in the shape of gold-coins, cattle, grains, raw-materials and also by rendering personal service.

Taking an overall view, it can be said without fear of contradiction that Kautilya’s Arthasastra was the first authoritative text on public finance, administration and the fiscal laws in this country. His concept of tax revenue and the on-tax revenue was a unique contribution in the field of tax administration. It was he, who gave the tax revenues its due importance in the running of the State and its far-reaching contribution to the prosperity and stability of the Empire. It is truly an unique treatise. It lays down in precise terms the art of state craft including economic and financial administration.