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Matka: Why not?

19 Apr 2017 11:28pm IST
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19 Apr 2017 11:28pm IST

A public spirited citizens appeal to the court has sparked a renewed debate on matka. Once the court took notice, there has been a flurry of activity with the police arresting so-called matka bookies in what one can term Non Value Adding (NVA) activity. In industry NVA is sort to be eliminated as the name suggests doing that job adds no value, hence arresting these so-called matka bookies is absolutely useless as the arrest will not stand the scrutiny of the court and after a few years the accused will be acquitted. 

The police know about the existence of the matka outlets because when they go on their rounds surely they will see the classic matka booth, a low box table with sides high enough to conceal the transactions from prying eyes walking along the road. The police have not learnt or do not want to learn from previous acquittals. They catch a person with chits, some cash and lock him up, report the numbers to the press. For a few days it is holiday time for the matka business. In court they will be asked to present witnesses and they will have none, the cash they say is for a bet, but they do not have anyone who placed the bets in custody, you need two hands to clap right, and finally they cannot prove that the money seized during the raid was used for gambling. 

If the police had the will they can ensure a conviction, marked money and decoy customer routines are well-established in raiding suspected institutions. One cannot blame the police as they are taking the blame for the entire system that actually supports the matka business. They are just one part that is forced to act because the judiciary has intervened and in a way has promised to commission a special squad to investigate the matter if the police cannot. Maybe in a bid to pacify the court and show that action is being taken, the police launched this half-hearted drive which will last but a few days before everything goes back to normal.

The solution is to allow matka to function openly. We have allowed casinos, we have allowed lottery’s and every State has its own lottery, we allow clubs to organise bingo, so where is the problem. The official problem is that matka spoils families because winners of poor families get addicted and drive the family into debt and penury. Surely this oft repeated and half- baked argument against matka will hold for casinos or any other form of gambling.  The stock market, after famous crashes do we not hear off suicides by punters who lost heavily. Why is there no talk of making investing in the stock markets illegal? So why apply it only to matka?

The other unofficial problem is that currently keeping it illegal or not official forces those who run the matka operation to “oil” the system to prevent hiccups. If matka is made legal this oiling will stop and huge revenue would be lost. 

Gambling is something that each individual has to decide if he wishes to or if he can afford to indulge in. There is no way the State can stop a person wanting to gamble, or for that matter drink. Within days of the Supreme Court decision to ban bars on highways, accidents in Goa claimed eight people in one day.  So be sure, matka or no matka people are going to lose their money in one way or another. 

Look at the positive contribution of matka. First, it is an additional revenue stream for the shop keeper, at no additional cost. If it was legal he could keep operate it from within his shop as if selling any other ware. Then there is employment. Matka employs many otherwise unemployed youth and since they are not cheating anyone, it is a good clean income. The matka trade is known for its ability to deliver winnings without any default. This itself should be a plus point.  So even if it does not contribute any taxes to the State it is doing the State a favour by providing direct employment to thousands. These people in turn will spend their earnings and the economy gets a boost and that adds to the indirect tax kitty of the State. 

Given the situation, why does the State not move to make life easy for everyone and legalise matka. There is actually nothing they have to do, is there any specific law that governs bingo or marbles for that matter. Let the people play. Automatically the “better/player” will go to an outlet which gives him an official receipt and the results will be posted as a printed list or as an advert.

The matka papers will benefit as other related establishments will begin to advertise. If there is a dispute it can go to the consumer forum and the only time the police will be involved is if there is a fight where law and order is breached. If a player wins big he will include it in his tax return as done by casino players, it is small he will just let it go. Once in the open and transactions are official TDS can be deducted on payouts, which will accrue to the Government as most of the winners will be in the exempt bracket, and it they pay taxes they can take credit. 

Make matka legal and save the courts time and energy, police can focus on catching criminals and ordinary citizens can relax and bet. It is win-win for all.

(The author prefers to write rather than chat in a balcao)
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