Income Tax dept to use video conference sparingly in faceless assessment scheme
The income tax department’s faceless assessment regime will leave room for interaction between a taxpayer and officials through video conference (VC) in specific circumstances but the government’s intention is to use it sparingly, so that the new system built on anonymity isn’t jeopardised, senior tax officials said in a webinar on Friday.
The webinar on faceless assessments was organised by Dhruva Advisors and Ficci .
The system of fully digitised and anonymous assessment and appeal was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week. The regime seeks to eliminate the interface between taxpayers and the tax official, which is expected to cut the discretionary power enjoyed by the officials while also restricting the opportunity for the taxpayers to enter into illegal arrangements with their assessors.
However, this has unnerved many taxpayers who have asked the department whether the absence of oral or physical hearing would rob the proceedings of ‘fair exchange of information’ as only written submission would be allowed. “Can the taxpayer be assured that their written points would be understood by the tax officer and taken into consideration, and therefore can the taxpayer be assured of justice in the current scheme,” S Nageswari, tax head at Tata Group, asked the tax officials at the webinar.
In response, Rajesh Bhoot, joint secretary at the tax policy and legislation unit of Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said that while written submission made by the taxpayers would be taken into account in assessment, any misunderstanding could be sorted out through the provision of video conferencing. He added that the officials were already using email and VC facilities during the pandemic to test the electronic interface, which was the future of tax-related processes.
Further, the officials explained that the extant standard operating procedure (SOPs) on video conferencing was liberal and could be granted to anyone requesting for it. But a new set of SOPs for faceless assessment regime would be approved by CBDT outlining the criteria under which a request for a VC interaction could be approved.
Bhoot added that given faceless assessment is a pioneering attempt and there is no history of such a system for reference, the SOPs would be flexible so that suggestions could be incorporated into the initial guidelines.
“It would actually be spelling out the parameter or circumstance or the kind of cases that would warrant a personal hearing. It would be a guidance to the chief commissioners and the national e-assessment centre (NeAC) while evaluating request for a personal hearing but it would do well for the assessee to know if his request for personal hearing matches the criteria laid out for the same,” Smita Jhingran, chief commissioner at regional e-assessment centre in Delhi, said. She added that the CBDT would approve such a document.