Jul 30, 2010

Got my Income Tax refund

One of my problems is that I spend lots of time in Singapore as well as in India. Unlike people that live mostly in one country, I have to adapt constantly. Returning NRI's after a long stint abroad eventually get 'immunised' to the Indian way of doing things fairly quickly. They 'system' 'normalises' them, even if they have to be dragged in kicking and screaming. And Indian executives and businessmen that travel abroad often get back to 'local' settings practically as soon as they land in India (with new airports they have to wait until they are out of the airport into the streets).  But my case is different, I have to constantly switch modes.

Which means when I am in India I have to learn to live with all its well known problems. The sound of vehicle horns, which signals an emergency or life threatening situation in Singapore is practically a always-on device used to 'clear' traffic ahead of you when back in India, for instance. I never can get used to that...

But I am going to talk about a good thing here - Income Tax (IT) return filing, assessment and refunds.

I got the refund for AY 2009-10 which for the fiscal year ending March 2009, already!!!

The amount is fairly small (less than Rs.5,000) but tells us a lot about how India is moving ahead in its own pace but in the right direction...

  • Firstly the return was filed hardly a year ago, back in July 2009.
  • Secondly it was filed electronically without any need to mail in anything.
  • Thirdly I did absolutely no chasing, follow-up, certainly no bribing or 'baksheesh' to get it done!

I remember the days when Chartered Accountants used to spend practically their entire working day in IT offices, greasing palms, begging, pleading and cajoling IT staff into processing returns, and getting the 'assessment order' done. They used to know if the officer likes Scotch whisky or is the one that goes to Tirupati temple for prayers every other week and modify their behaviour accordingly. It is the kind of knowledge that can save your career or make it. I also remember IT staff went on protest when the system of  random checking was introduced - for obvious reasons.

But now technology and reforms are making all that redundant. You don't need to know who your ITO is (unless you get raided for tax fraud) or even where the returns are processed. I heard they are done centrally and is also partly outsourced....the dirty word outsourcing is not a one way street. And tax rates are more reasonable now.

All this is fairly commonplace in Singapore and has been that way for at least 20 years to my knowledge. Around April each year you file a return that barely takes 5 minutes to fill in, (for 99% of folks), mail it (now electronic) and get your assessment order three or four months later, with 30 days to pay your tax. No TDS, No Advance tax, no nonsense. That simple.

Give them a few more years and India's IT process may get there...I am optimistic.

Time to celebrate that little cheque for many reasons!

Jul 20, 2010

An Octopus tale..

Thanks to Paul, Octopus-es (or is it Octopussy/Octopii?) are quite popular these days. But we are not talking about the 8 legged variety but the plastic ones. The card used by people in Hongkong to ride on MRT, buses and do many other things..

Well Singapore has one too, but this is one area where there is something to learn from the other uber-efficient city state in East Asia. Unlike the Singapore card aka Ezlink card, which can be used only in a few places, like trains and buses, the Octopus card of HK has as many uses as Paul has legs, and more. I even paid for entry fee to an IT show using the card (IT shows are free in Singapore, unfortunately, as anyone squeezed to juice there can testify).

And unlike Paul and the HK Octopus, the Ezlink card has competitors which means further fragmentation of an already small market and reduced acceptance.

You can also top-up the Octopus card anywhere, including convenience stores for no fee. I had to pay $0.50 surcharge to top-up mine in a Singapore 7-11. Outrageous...perhaps not but only reduces card usage and makes people stand in queue at railway stations when there are so many other places they could get it done..

Time to rethink the top-up fee? Wonder what Paul has to say about that!

Jul 9, 2010

Memories of '82

I only vaguely remember watching Brazil play in the 1982 world cup - as well as the 1986 one as well..but one thing I remember fondly is the way they passed the ball around...keeping it firmly on the ground, fluently passing to one another as if the other team, however talented, does not matter in the least, not just keeping possession but always moving towards the other sides' penalty area...the whole thing looked well orchestrated, deceptively simple, like watching a good violinist play..and then they had such nice (and easy to remember) names like Zico, Socrates and Junior.

When I watched Spain play Germany in the semi-finals, I was pleasantly surprised because they were playing almost exactly the same way. As I do not watch European league games, I was not familiar with their style and it was such a pleasure to watch.

It is as if there was a hidden magnet in each Spanish boot that makes the ball stick to their feet...and promptly attach itself to the team mate they pass to. Only in very long passes they were not so precise.

Good luck Spain...I will be cheering you on Sunday..hopefully from a nice pub somewhere in Singapore! It may be 2.30am in the morning, it may be that I have to catch a flight next morning but it is not often one gets to watch such talent..

Jul 3, 2010

Beauty of Linux

My laptop hard disk failed yesterday. I was on Windows 7. Compared to all other versions of Windows, such as XP or the dreaded Vista, I should say 7 is the best. However, I got to know how far Microsoft has to travel when I was forced to use Linux for a day or so...

I was trying Windows 7 rescue but it ran for about 6 hours only to restart and re-run again. In the meantime, I was stuck. I gave up.

I had to find a way as there was lots of stuff in the disk I had not backed up. I slotted in a Ubuntu DVD I had received with a magazine and rebooted. It is a live-CD which means no need to install anything. In 5 minutes, I was running a nice graphical operating system, with Firefox and everything. It automatically found my wireless connection and connected to the net. It also came with a truck load of useful software including Office equivalents.

It found my laptop's hard disk, along with brand, serial number, temperature and practically everything about it other than the name of the salesgirl that sold it to me! Naturally it could also show me all the files inside.

I could happily move critical files to another disk and wipe it clean, so I can reinstall Windows 7 again, without losing anything (other than a few hours of valuable time, of course!)

So my advise to anyone using a laptop or desktop - keep a Live DVD of Ubuntu (or any other linux distro) handy - it may not save your life but it will surely save a lot of other things...

Even if you dont fry a hard disk, it is still useful to boot this DVD to browse the net with no risk of any malware or spyware or virus affecting your laptop's operating system  and not leave any trace behind, in case your one someone else's laptop. You can choose to unmount your laptop's hard disk and just work on the DVD alone. Now that would frustrate not only the spammers and virus makers but also those corporate busy-bodies that 'mine' your computer for valuable information so they can spam you even more...