Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted officers on Friday to shift to electronic interface with taxpayers to ensure complete anonymity, which will also help avoid complaints of harassment or favouritism and shut out “vested interests”.
Addressing the annual retreat of officers from the direct and indirect tax wings for the second straight year, the PM called for a switch to a system where functionaries did not know whose returns they were assessing or scrutinising, while the individual or the company did not know who was the officer dealing with their case.
Modi compared this with the UPSC exams, where the aspirant does not know the examiner and the examiner does not know who the candidate is.
The Modi government has been pushing a system where there is minimum human interface. Even during investigations related to cash deposits during demonetisation, those who came under the scanner were asked to respond through the income tax website.
In recent years, notices have also started coming via emails with replies to be posted through the same channel, dropping the earlier system where assessees were immediately asked to appear before a junior officer.
Changes to the scrutiny mechanism have already been introduced and Modi’s latest statement is expected to speed up the change in process. This is the second time that Modi has asked for an overhaul in the way the department works.
With the income tax department tackling demonetisation-related cases for the last few months and the Central Board of Excise and Customs busy with the rollout of the goods and services tax (GST), the PM said he was part of the same team and said finger-pointing will not help. ” Agar ek ungli aapki taraf hai to teen meri taraf, ” the Prime Minister was quoted as saying by officers at the Rajasva Gyan Sangam.
PM asks I-T officers to improve work culture
But he did ask officers to improve their work culture to incorporate both a “sense of urgency” and “measurability” in their performance.
While the PM has been happy with the rollout of GST, expanding the base was highlighted by him. “The PM said that in order to enable all traders to take the maximum benefit of GST, we should work towards ensuring that all traders, including even relatively smaller traders with a turnover below Rs 20 lakh, should register with the GST system.
He asked the officers to make efforts in this regard by designing a system for this category,” an official release said. Some 17 lakh new entities have registered for GST, which has helped expand the base.
Expanding the base has been a priority for years as the tax-GDP ratio in India remains low, with several individuals as well as businesses either evading taxes or under-reporting income and sales.
Modi, however, said there should be greater reliance on technology and data analytics, which will also help reduce search-and-seizure operations (commonly referred to as raids), which are often seen to yield little result and prosecution of offenders is a mammoth task.
The PM suggested that human interface should be kept to a minimum in the tax administration’s dealings and asked for a push to “e-assessment”. “The Prime Minister asked officers to use data analytical tools to proactively track and determine undeclared income and wealth.
He said that though efforts to increase tax revenue are made by officers each year, the estimated amounts of tax that should accrue to the system are often not realised.