Column : What constitutes ‘income’?

Jan 22 2013, 00:37 IST
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SummaryThe issue of whether the rich should pay more tax is subject to this question.

Part B TI of the Income Tax Return (ITR 4) form gives the details of computation of total income. It captures information relating to income from the five different heads, namely salary, income from house property, profits and gains from business or profession, capital gains and income from other sources. Let us call this A. The aggregate of such incomes as reduced by current and brought forward losses gives the gross total income, say B. From the latter, the deductions as available under chapter VI A are reduced and we arrive at the total income for the purpose of income tax, say C. It is evident that this form of capturing total income involves three constructs of income—the sum of the different heads, gross total income and total income. These constructs of income used by the income tax department in its statistics are obviously different from the “income” as would be understood by an economist.

From an economist’s point of view, an exempt income is an integral part of the income of the tax payer. However, the exempt incomes will not enter into the computation of any of the above constructs of income. Second, each of the heads of income has its own set of deductions. For example, the computation of the income from house property provides for deduction for maintenance or property. In the case of a self-occupied property, while the rental income will be nil, deduction of interest paid on loan-financed property will be available, which will then go to reduce the total income. Similarly, house rent allowance, although a part of the salary income, would be excluded fully or partly by virtue of the exemption provided in section 10 (13A). In case of business income, benefits from accelerated depreciation are already incorporated when the income from business is computed. The examples can be multiplied. Further, the economist’s definition of income will also vary in so far as treatment of brought-forward losses as also the deductions relating to encouragement of savings and investment are concerned.

While analysing the income and tax data provided by the income tax department, therefore, it is important to understand which definition of income is being referred to and what can be inferred from the same. Two columns—“The taxation silly season is here” ( and “Blinded by tax revenue” (—have raised some interesting issues with respect to income taxation, veracity of data and effective tax rate

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