Let’s be clear: even if Sonia Gandhi were to put her latest income-tax returns in the public domain – which she has currently declined against an RTI request – nothing much will come to light.
Three reasons why.
One, her main sources of official income are likely to come from being a cabinet-ranked head of the National Advisory Council (NAC), her salary and income as an MP, including attendance fees, and miscellaneous income from fixed deposits, etc.
Two, the assets disclosed by her to the Election Commission in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll was just around Rs 1.38 crore. These assets are incapable of generating very high incomes – unless one sells some of the landed properties held in her name in Italy and India.
Three, it is highly unlikely that her tax returns will give us any greater insight into her real sources of income – assuming there’s more to it than what has been disclosed.
The main income for Sonia Gandhi is likely to be the salary and perks she earns by being a member of Parliament, and some additional moolah as a cabinet-ranked member of the NAC.
Incidentally, it is not as if Mrs Gandhi has not disclosed any of her tax status. According to her election returns filed before contesting the 2009 poll, she said she had paid Rs 5.58 lakh as income tax for assessment year 2008-09 and Rs 32,512 in wealth tax.
Since she could be reckoned to be in the top tax bracket, a tax payment of Rs 5.58 lakh would imply a taxable income of around Rs 16-17 lakh in 2007-08 (financial year).
But, of course, since then her income would have shot up substantially – especially since MP salaries have been enormously hiked.
So what do MPs make annually?
According to The Times of India’s calculations, the average MP can be earning around Rs 37 lakh annually, taking both income and perquisites together, after the recent salary hike of 2010. But unlike you and me, who will pay tax on income in our brackets — for MPs, this is all tax-free income.
The average MP’s income includes a monthly salary of Rs 50,000, and Rs 80,000 for office expenses and constituency allowances (Rs 40,000 each). That’s Rs 1.3 lakh already. Then there is the daily attendance fee in parliament, at Rs 1,000 a day for an average of 150 working days every year.
Then, of course, there are loans for buying cars, travel allowance at generous rates (Rs 16 per km for cars used – which is surely a built-in income), pension (Rs 20,000 pm), free air tickets, big residential bungalows or flats in posh areas of Delhi, free air and train travel for self and spouse, etc.
So, in all likelihood Sonia could be making around Rs 20 lakh annually in salary and cash allowances, plus another Rs 15-17 lakh in perquisites. At least, this is what The Times of India says most MPs must be making.
Next, we have Sonia’s salary and perks related to being a cabinet-ranked head of the NAC. Firstpost filed an RTI with the Prime Minister’s Office to find out the NAC’s costs – but all we got was a gross budget, which works out to Rs 3.77 crore for all of 2011-12. Since this includes all expenses, including office expenses and payments made to other NAC members – and there’s a whole lot of them, around a dozen – one can assume that Sonia’s earnings from NAC cannot be higher than what she earns as an MP.
Lastly, there would be the income she earns from assets. In 2009, she declared ownership of assets worth Rs 1.38 crore, including the following:
• An ancestral house in Italy, which was valued at Rs 18.05 lakh.
• Rs 75,000 in cash and Rs 28.61 lakh in bank deposits.
• Mutual funds worth about Rs 20 lakh and Rs 12 lakh in RBI bonds.
• 10 shares of Maruti Technical Services and 500 shares of Western India Tanneries.
• Post office deposits total Rs 1.99 lakh.
• Rs 24.88 lakh with the Public Provident Fund.
• Jewellery worth about 2.5 kg, then valued at Rs 11 lakh.
• 88 kg of silverware worth more than Rs 18 lakh.
• Two plots of agricultural land totalling around 15 bighas valued then at Rs 2.19 lakh.
Her cash and cash-like assets add up to Rs 88.23 lakh. Assuming an average return of 8.5 percent on these assets, she could be earning around Rs 7.5 lakh in interest/dividend income annually – excluding her landed properties and the shares she owns in Maruti Technical and Western India Tanneries.
Taking her earnings as an MP, her earnings as NAC chief, and regular interest and dividend income, it would be a reasonable guess that her annual income is somewhere between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 75 lakh currently.
The problem, though, is that her known assets look too small for someone who has been in political life for more than two-and-a-half decades, ever since Rajiv Gandhi became PM in 1984.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reported assets in excess of Rs 5 crore. Can Sonia Gandhi have only Rs 1.38 crore of assets in her name?