Finance Ministry’s poorly drafted clarification, aided by media spin, leads to rumours of “surgical strike” on Gold

BJP and by extension the Indian Government has earned a reputation of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on umpteen occasions all thanks to its woeful communication. And today, in the midst of demonetisation, it has done it once again. Worse, this is not a victory yet, and is already being converted into a defeat.

Ever since the scheme of scrapping old notes was announced, social media was rife with all sorts of rumours. We at OpIndia.com had to conduct multiple “surgical strikes” on these rumours to kill any chance of a flare-up. One such rumour was the purported move of the Government to soon target gold held by households, after it went after cash. There were various variations of this rumour but the in short, all tried to create panic among the average citizen about his or her gold.

So the Government of India, through its Ministry of Finance, tried to lay to rest one such rumour, but managed to start an even worse rumour. ANI News, tweeted out the following information, which was soon latched on to by many media houses:

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The news
The news

The most problematic part of the above was the last tweet, which reported the restrictions on the amount of Gold which would not be seized. Soon we had news items like the below:

So was this the truth? Obviously not. Most media reports missed out on stating that these limits for seizure were applicable ONLY in case of Income Tax raids. This was itself clear in the Finance Ministry’s press release, based on which the media had reported the above. But was this a new rule which the Ministry had announced? Not really. These limits were in fact from an instruction which dated back to 1994. And there in lies the entire problem.

The Finance Ministry was only trying to quell rumours that there was no new provision regarding chargeability of tax on jewellery in the Taxation Laws (Second Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed this week in the Lok Sabha. The clarification went on to reiterate the changes proposed which are already well know. Till here it was all hunky dory.

After this, the clarification went on to reiterate existing laws and rules relating to Gold and from here it went downhill. Unnecessarily, this old law which is relevant only in case of Income Tax raids, was mentioned. The clarification did mention that it was applicable only in case of raids, but there was absolutely no need to mention this in a press release going out to the entire country.

Income Tax Raids are generally a very rare phenomenon and definitely do not concern 99.99% of the population. Worse, it revealed that rules made with the sensibilities of 1994 in mind, were being applied in 2016.

Once the Government had opened the gates, the media entered and made a hash of the entire clarification and reported a completely different picture. Self Goal: Scorer media, assisted and created by Finance Ministry.

Update: The Finance Ministry has released another communication which now clearly states that “there is no limit on holding of gold jewellery or ornaments by anybody provided it is acquired from explained sources of income including inheritance” and that the limits pertain to only cases of Income Tax raids.

co-founder, OpIndia.com

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