Ramasamy (name changed) refused to change the proposed date of marriage of his second daughter when his first born in the US expressed inability to attend her sister’s marriage. He had fixed a marriage hall belonging to a superstar, six months before D-Day and had paid the entire rent of several lakhs as advance — which was non-refundable.
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This is the plight of many who believe in conducting traditional wedding ceremonies in halls in Chennai. Says Sindhu Vijayakumar, a senior media professional in Chennai, “People are paying in lakhs to hire just four walls and a limited parking space. The cost of decoration, catering, seating, electricity, water etc., adds up to many more lakhs for a day or two. You can hire only their authorized vendors who charge much higher than the market rate for decoration, etc.”
She says marriage halls take full money as advance, while it should be only a percentage of the entire cost. Receipts are given after the event. They also take a caution deposit of a few lakhs and at the end of the event, only a small amount is returned. People hoping to invite large numbers of guests have to choose from the limited halls in Chennai that can accommodate those crowds.
Cash payments and GST violations
G Anbazhagan, Advocate, Madras High Court, discloses that cases have been filed against Pachaiyappa’s Trust Board, which has leased out Amma Arangam of C. Kandaswami Naidu College for Men, Anna Nagar and Anna Arangam, Chetput to Muhurtam Event Management Pvt. Ltd. The latter charges huge amounts as rent for marriages and events, does not pay GST on the entire amount collected and no refund is made in case of cancellation. Both buildings were constructed without planning/ building permission, but obtained EB and water connection. Neither has obtained a licence under the Tamil Nadu Public Building Licensing Act to run as a public building and, yet are being used for commercial purposes, which is against the objective of the trust.
Anbazhagan opines that high rents and dubious practices of marriage halls must be monitored and controlled by the Chennai Corporation. “I have come to know that nearly all the marriage halls collect money in cash from those who want to hire their premises. Only a small amount is shown as rental charges for which GST is paid. This difference is a huge loss to the government. What are the GST authorities doing about this?” he asks.
Sometimes when weddings have had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, the wedding party is left with no proof of cash payment. Subsequently, even though the hall is rented out on the same dates to other parties, the advance amount including GST is not paid back to the family even when they cancel weeks before the marriage date.
“According to RBI norms (Section 269 ST of Income Tax Act ) , no cash transactions are permitted over Rs. 2 lakhs. But all Kalyana Mandapams force customers to pay in cash well over Rs. 2 lakhs. This has been going on for years. What is the RBI doing about this?” he queries.
Ironically the wedding hall owned by the superstar which Ramasamy had booked for several lakhs, requested a lower assessment of property tax claiming use for charity purposes, according to a reliable source in the Corporation.
Dr. K. Venkat Rama Reddy I. R. S, Additional Commissioner in the Principal Chief Commissioner’s Office of GST, Chennai, says, “Not all commercial establishments fall under Central GST. Many of them also come under state GST authorities. Moreover we are an administrative office. Citizens who are compelled to pay cash amounts to Kalyana Mandapams can send their complaints to our zonal offices which come under their jurisdiction– North, South or Outer Chennai. We do receive letters from people and there is a machinery in place to handle such complaints. Investigations are held and the veracity of the complaints is examined. Then notices would be issued to establishments that have been proved to have evaded paying the right amount of GST collected from customers.”
Advocate Anbazhagan says that public awareness must be created to put an end to the wrongful practices of marriage halls collecting money in cash and not refunding the advance amounts collected when a wedding is cancelled well before the date. Anbazhagan advises affected persons to build up evidence that the marriage halls have taken money in cash by recording their conversations when they ask refund of the advance amount paid by them. They can then send a Registered AC letter citing the amounts paid and their efforts made to recover the advance amount. Following this they can go to court to recover their advance amount.
“Rent for commercial establishments are not regulated by the Chennai Corporation, but are market driven,” says R.Lalitha, I.A.S., Joint Commissioner (Revenue & Finance). “We are only concerned with property tax, conservancy fees for bulk waste generation etc. We assess property tax based on the declaration of the building owners.” However if they do find the property is undervalued, they issue a revised tax demand order and recover the difference amount of property tax for 12 half years (six years) predated.
Lalitha says Chennai Corporation offers community halls at nominal charges to the public and they are always fully booked.
Why do tax-paying citizens fall prey to such blatant exploitation and exorbitant rents?
This is probably because the concept of family honour and the practice of conducting traditional weddings are deeply entrenched in Indian families. There is also the unspoken pressure to appease the bridegroom’s family, a patriarchal trend that continues even today.
The concept of ‘undue influence’ under the Indian Contract Act, 1872 explains this better. A contract is said to be induced by “undue influence” where the relations subsisting between the parties are such that one of the parties is in a position to dominate the will of the other and uses that position to obtain an unfair advantage over the other. Kalyana Mandapams are taking advantage of weaker position of their clients to profit from them and force them to yield to their corrupt practices.
While Anbazhagan recommends registered marriages, Lalitha I.A.S. recounts how her father said marriage could wait, but financial independence was foremost. She had a simple marriage and so did many of her batchmates. “What is the need to spend so much money on weddings? Only because there is a demand, the rents for halls run by private parties are high. If there is no demand, the rentals will come down automatically.”
Sindhu Vijayakumar feels that people should stop making weddings an elaborate affair. She gives examples of governments fixing limits for wedding expenses. Recently in Kerala, Nair Service Society came up with a model code and a ceiling for expenses. Earlier the CPIM party in Kerala had asked all their cadres to conduct only simple weddings. She says “Every community /religion should ban such exorbitant weddings, every government official should declare the money he or she spends on wedding of self and children.“
She also feels hotels can be a good alternative for marriage feasts following a simple marriage if they can meet the requests of citizens to adopt certain simple traditions.
The time has come to reinvent the wheel and go back to wedding celebrations in our family homes or places of worship, which was the case several decades ago much before the practice of conducting wedding in Kalyana Mandapams came into existence!
Dos and Don’ts while booking Kalyana Mandapams
- Ask for a break up of all costs before paying an advance to a Kalyana Mandapam
- Work out costs for all their authorised vendors before you pay the advance.
- Try to create evidence through audio/video recording for the entire amount paid as advance while booking a mandapam.
- Do research on the Internet to find out if a mandapam has all the approvals, especially if it is new and on the outskirts of the city.
- Check mandatory safety measures taken by the hall.
- Enquire about car parking and if you have to spend extra to arrange valet parking.
- Look for hidden costs for seat covers, music bands, articles used during the ceremony etc., supplied by the mandapam.
- Check if you have to pay for extra rooms, beds etc. Ask about costs per AC and TV used and miss that are needed for the ceremony.
- Take receipts for all amounts paid. Scrutinise the amount of GST collected. If the wedding is cancelled, the mandapams have no business to charge GST for services not rendered and must refund the entire amount if cancelled well before the date booked.