India has in recent years made a certain level of progress in granting basic rights and entitlements to its citizens. Recent examples include the ‘Right to Education’ agreed in 2010, and the ‘Right to Food’ which was discussed in 2010 in the Indian Parliament.
Poor people in India discovered that they are paying taxes on everything from matchboxes to rice, and with the slogan ‘we will know, we will live’ they demanded to see the government’s accounts. Initially the people were declined this access to financial information, but during the 2005 campaign for the ‘Right to Information’ tax campaigners seized the opportunity to demand clarity on government income and expenditure. With the passing of the Right to Information Bill, citizens in India are now entitled to know how their tax money is spent and they are using this knowledge to challenge existing tax policies.The central government’s tax system in India has a plethora of exemptions that have resulted in huge amounts of revenue foregone by the government every year – in 2009/10 this was estimated by the central government’s Ministry of Finance to reach more than 5 trillion rupees (approximately US$110 billion) or 8 per cent of India’s GDP. Because of the increased transparency that the Right to Information brought about, Indian tax campaigners are now able to call for all tax exemptions to commerce and industry to be justified and for those exemptions that cannot be justified to be withdrawn.