What Do Car Sales Tell Us About Black Money?


All through last week I wrote on the data put out by the Income Tax department sometime back. This is perhaps the last column based around the data.

Take a look at the following table. I know it’s a very large table, but it’s important to reproduce it here. The table gives the details about individuals who pay income tax in India. This is for the assessment year 2012-2013. The income tax returns for the income earned during 2011-2012 were filed during 2012-2013.

RangeNo of returnsSum of tax payable (in Rs crore)
= 0162,47,598
>0 and <=1,50,000111,28,41923446
>150,000 and <= 2,00,0003,02,3395254
>2,00,000 and <=2,50,0002,14,4374790
>2,50,000 and <= 3,50,0002,64,9907818
>3,50,000 and <= 4,00,00086,7013243
>4,00,000 and <= 4,50,00069,0772930
>4,50,000 and <= 5,00,00058,2412762
>5,00,000 and <= 5,50,00048,1972527
>5,50,000 and <= 9,50,0001,78,65412580
>9,50,000 and <= 10,00,00010,5061024
>10,00,000 and <=15,00,00063,8767746
>15,00,000 and <= 20,00,00030,0165171
>20,00,000 and <= 25,00,00016,7953740
>25,00,000 and <= 50,00,00029,88110229
>50,00,000 and <= 1,00,00,00011,0777474
>1,00,00,000 and <=5,00,00,0005,0428907
>5,00,00,000 and <=10,00,00,0002661788
>10,00,00,000 and <=25,00,00,000901393
>25,00,00,000 and <=50,00,00,00021707
>50,00,00,000 and <=100,00,00,0008590
>100,00,00,000 and <=500,00,00,0003437
Total number of individuals who filed income tax returns287,66,258114556
Total number who paid tax125,18,660car

In the assessment year 2012-2013, around 2.88 crore Indians filed income tax returns. Of this nearly 56.4% or 1.62 crore did not pay any income tax. The rest, that is, around 1.25 crore individuals paid income tax.

Of the 1.25 crore who paid income tax, nearly 1.11 crore individuals or 89% paid an income tax of less than Rs 1.5 lakh, for the assessment year 2012-2013. In total, these individuals paid an income tax of Rs 23,446 crore. This works out to an average of Rs 21,069. Of course, the median tax paid would be even lower than this.

Hence, 89% of those who paid tax in India in the assessment year 2012-2013, paid an average income tax of just over Rs 21,000 for the year. This means an average income tax of less than Rs 2,000 per month.

This means around 14 lakh Indians (13.90 lakhs to be precise) actually got around to paying some income tax. They paid around Rs 91,110 crore of income tax in total.

It is safe to say here that the average Indian does not pay income tax. Now let’s compare this to some consumption numbers. Take the case of car sales. In 2011-2012, around 25.34 lakh cars were sold.

What does this tell us? In a country where around 13.90 lakh individuals actually pay some income tax, 25.34 lakh cars are sold during the course of the year. In fact, the number of cars sold has continued to be in the range of 23.4-25.6 lakh cars a year, since then. This basically tells us that many people who are buying cars are not paying any income tax.

This could be because of two reasons. One reason could be that those earning income from agriculture, which is tax free, are buying cars. The other and the more likely reason is that cars are being bought with money on which income tax has not been paid i.e. cars are being bought with black money.

Also, if we look at the income distribution of the salaried individuals paying income tax, around 20.2 lakh people had declared incomes between Rs 5.5 lakh and Rs 9.5 lakh, in the assessment year 2012-2013. But the total number of cars sold during the year stood at greater than 25 lakhs. It is safe to say here that those buying cars are earning at least Rs 5 lakh per annum. The question is, who is buying these cars then?

In short, it is safe to come to the conclusion that a significant portion of the cars are being bought by those who have black money.

The good news is that it shouldn’t be very difficult for income tax authorities to figure out who these people are, given the information technology infrastructure that is available these days. Of course, it may not be feasible for them to go after each and every such individual.

The column originally appeared in the Vivek Kaul Diary on May 9, 2016