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25 Aug 2020

‘Honoring the Honest’- A Perspective on Transparent Taxation

The administration of a country makes headway with fiscal reforms when the revenue framework starts hindering effectiveness. Further, the redesigning of tax administration is done to widen the tax base and to achieve budgetary objectives.

Over the years, policymakers have understood the need for having a balance between innovation and compliance systems. The Tax Administration Reform Strategy that has been adopted, therefore, entails a simplified compliance system. At the innovation front, it has prompted the introduction of E-assessments; revamping of the E-filling portal and strengthening of Central Processing Centers (CPCs) for processing the ITRs.

In addition, mandating the need for computer-generated Unique Document Identification Number (DIN) followed by the announcement by the Finance Minister of Faceless Assessment Scheme in her Budget Speech on July 5th, 2019, has sequentially nourished the Tax administration with a unique technological advancement, the “Transparent Taxation System”.

Now India has embraced its policy reforms by introducing a scheme to “Honour the Honest” and to balance automation with compliance. By adopting a system of process simplification, India has become the first on an International platform to set a unique practice of “Faceless Assessment Scheme.”

Need for Transparent Taxation

The policymakers widely felt that the current tax system had components of arbitrary use of power, and direly needed to have fair play and transparency. The human interface and the multiplicity of visits to tax offices was prejudicial to the spirit of an honest taxpayer paving the way for corruption and favouritism.

The tax system called for and the Government also recognized the need for having an administrative mechanism with a minimal interface between a Tax-officer and a Taxpayer.

The complications in efficiency and effectiveness demanded a transparent taxation system. Thus, the Government presented before us a Faceless Assessment Scheme and a scheme of Faceless Appeals at the level of Commissioner of Income Tax (Appeals).

Towards the Transparent Taxation regime, the Hon’ble Prime Minister on August 13th, 2020, on behalf of the Central Board of Direct Taxes launched a new platform to meet the requirements of the 21st-century Taxation system. The New facilities launched are a part of the Government’s initiative to provide “Maximum Governance with Minimum Government”.

The platform, apart from being faceless, is also aimed at boosting the confidence of the Taxpayer and making him/her fearless. It aims to make the tax system indefectible, faceless and painless for the Assessee. After Banking the Unbanked, Securing the Unsecured and Funding the Unfunded”, the “Honoring the Honest” initiative by the Tax Department has given the Indian Tax system, a global recognition.


Elements & Features of Faceless Assessment

In respect of the features of the scheme, it enumerates the selection of a case for scrutiny through Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence. The approach is to abolish Territorial Jurisdiction for assessment proceedings. It prescribes automated and random allocation of cases where notices, when served, will have Document Identification No. (DIN).

The scheme provides for team-based assessments and team-based review whereby draft assessment orders from one city will undergo review in a different City and finally be issued by the Nodal Agency located in Delhi. The Government has made the facility of Faceless Appeal available from September 25th, 2020, and it will randomly allot such Appeals to any Tax officer in the country. The identity of officers deciding an appeal will remain unknown, and the appellate decisions will be team-based and reviewed.

Most importantly, the scheme of both the Faceless Assessment and Faceless Appeal, curbs the practice of physical interface. Therefore, from now, there is no need for an assessee to visit the Income Tax Office.

In respect of efficiency and effectiveness, the scheme intends to benefit the Taxpayer through the ease of compliance, functional specialization, improved quality of assessments and most notably expeditious disposal of cases.


Implementation and Execution

The scheme prescribes the constitution of National E-assessment Centre (NeAC) & Regional E-assessment Centres (ReAc). The NeAC will function as a nodal agency in coordination with the ReACs located at different places supported by Assessment Units (AUs), Verification Units (VUs), Review Units (RUs) and Technical Units (TUs). Towards the completion of Assessment, NeAc will pass and issue final orders.


In respect of the operational perspective of the scheme, the new set-up formulated under the Faceless Assessment Scheme will administer all assessment proceedings u/s 143, 144, 148 read with 143(2)/ 142(1) of the Income-Tax Act 1961.

However, the scheme holds exceptions as well. It would not apply to cases assigned to Central Circles, matters related to International Taxation and facts constituting offences under the Black Money Act and the Benami Property Act.

Henceforth two-third of the department officers will be deputed to perform the functions of faceless assessments. The balance one third will perform residual functions enumerated under the Act including rectification proceedings, statutory powers u/s 263/264 of the Act, handling of grievances, demand management, recovery, collection, prosecution and compounding and administrative/HRD matters. The Officers of the Directorate of Investigation and TDS units will exercise power to conduct survey u/s 133A of the Act.

Within the folds of the new system lies the roots of the Tax Charter, which addresses the expectations of both the Revenue Department and the Assessee. The Revenue Department by way of the Charter assures fair, courteous and rational behaviour towards the Assessee. The Charter holds statutory backing with a binding character anticipating a commitment from the Assessee to fulfil the expectations of the Income Tax Department.


Incidental Tools, towards Transparency

Alongside the reforms pertaining to tax administration, the Government also revived the existing framework in terms of disclosure and reporting of transactions.

Accordingly, Income Tax Return will now seek details of House ownership, Passport number and details of Cash deposit exceeding prescribed limits. An Assessee must now also disclose expenditure incurred on foreign travel if it exceeds INR 2 lakh and even aspects of spending on electricity bills exceeding INR 1 lakh during a Financial Year.

Under the newly developed Tax Regime, Form 26AS (Form) will now be a complete profile of the taxpayer w.e.f. June 1st, 2020. It will cover under its scope “Specified financial transactions” covering transactions of purchase/ sale of goods, property, services, works contract, investment, expenditure, taking or accepting any loan or deposits.

Furthermore, the Form will include information about income tax demand, refunds, pending proceedings and proceedings completed under section 148,153A 153C of the Act.

Revision to an assessment and details of an appeal will also be shared under the new format of the Form and it will not be a one-time affair anymore, it will be live and updated quarterly. The Form will also address information received by the Tax Department from any other country under a Tax Treaty/Tax Information Exchange Agreements.


The Government has also proposed to expand the scope of Section 285BA of the Act for reporting of Specified Financial Transactions following which the Revenue Department may have on record the payment towards educational fee/donation and purchase of jewellery and paintings exceeding a value of INR 1 lakh.

Thus, in a nutshell, consumption and investment patterns of the Taxpayer will fall under the tax radar. It will now be difficult for any taxpayer to hide any transaction with a vendor, Bank/Financial Institution etc. notified under the Income Tax Law.


Conclusion  

On the face of it, the initiative is promising. Keeping in view, the intended simplicity and structure of the new administrative regime introduced for inducing better tax compliance in the Country. The question is how effectively it will overcome the challenges of and meet the intended objectives of the policymakers. The answer would depend on how seamlessly is the plan executed.





Image Credits: Photo by Samantha Borges on Unsplash

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