Michael Jackson’s one and only concert in India, was a sold out show and exempt from entertainment tax as proceeds would go to charity. The decision was taken to court, and many years later, there is a final word.
The late pop megastar Michael Jackson had given a sold-out concert to 35,000 fans in Mumbai on November 1, 1996. He had agreed to waive his fees, and to donate the profits from his show in Mumbai, part of the History World Tour from September 1996 to October 1997, to an Indian charity.
The Indian charity he donated the proceeds from his show was a youth employment project called Shiv Udyog Sena (SUS), headed by Raj Thackeray of the right wing Shiv Sena party. Thackeray is currently the President of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), The Tribune India reports.
According to the BBC, the profits from Michael Jackson’s first and only concert in India ran to more than $1 million, as written in Suketu Mehta’s award winning book, Maximum City.
The Shiv Sena party, which at the time was governing the Maharashtra state where Mumbai is located, had “waived entertainment tax on the show on the grounds that it was meant for a ‘philanthropic and charitable’ purpose,” the BBC reports.
Not everyone was happy. The opposition objected, and so did a consumer protection group called Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, which “promptly challenged the waiver in the Bombay High Court.”
As the chairman of the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, Shirish Deshpande told the BBC, “Just before the concert was held the government had increased the sales tax on medicines. We said how can you increase taxes on medicines and make a music concert attended by the affluent tax-free. Tickets were priced up to 5,000 rupees [$68], which was very steep for its time."
According to the BBC report, entertainment taxes are usually waived for “selected films and shows” to make tickets cheaper. But in the case of the Michael Jackson concert, the consumer protection group argued, the waiver would benefit the private event management company, Wizcraft International, and the ruling party backed youth employment project.
As a result of Mumbai Grahak Panchayat’s petition, more than 30 million rupees in ticket sales were frozen, and the waiver was suspended as the court “ask[ed] the government to examine its merits.” The BBC reports that “there was even some early debate about whether pop music should be given tax favours.”
Flash forward to 2021, and decades after the original concert in 1996, the current government in Maharashtra, “now run by Shiv Sena in coalition with the Congress party,” has ruled in favour of the organisers, reinstating the waiver.
The BBC reports that State minister Subhash Desai said on Tuesday evening that the cabinet had passed a resolution to "waive 3.3 million rupees [about $45,000] of entertainment tax for Michael Jackson's 1996 concert". The money is likely to be now claimed by the private event organiser, according to reports.
The Tribune India reports that “Desai said that though the entertainment tax waiver was granted by the then Shiv Sena-led government in 1996 itself, the decision was challenged in the Bombay High Court and later in the Supreme Court, and returned for the government’s consideration.”
“Since 1974, the past governments have granted tax waivers to such concerts. The state government has today approved the entertainment tax waiver for the concert and the amount deposited by the company shall be returned to it,” Desai has said.
"We would want the money to be deposited with the government since the charity [the youth employment project called Shiv Udyog Sena (SUS)] no longer exists," Shirish Deshpande, chairman of Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, says.
The now-unfrozen entertainment tax is likely to go to the coffers of the private event management company, Wizcraft International.
The Michael Jackson concert was an incredible hit, with thousands of fans gathering at the airport to meet their idol and partying in the streets when they couldn’t get into the sold-out concert at a sports arena, as this Conde Nast Traveller report explains.
Michael Jackson’s fame was tarnished in later years, as allegations of child abuse surfaced against him, and a documentary was made with his accusers talking about their time with the singer. Despite the negative press, Jackson never lost his standing with his fans, who knew his songs by heart and kept his albums in the charts, even after his death.