INCOME TAX officers have written to the chairperson of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), saying the “image” of the I-T department had taken a beating “in the eyes of the general public” following the government’s post-demonetisation drive against alleged hoarders of black money.
The three-page letter, written by Bhaskar Bhattacharya, secretary general of the Income Tax Gazetted Officers Association, on March 28 and addressed to CBDT chairperson Sushil Chandra, talks of the top leadership issuing directions “on (an) hourly basis” and forcing I-T officers to exert “pressure” on tax payers, as a result of which there has been “utter confusion and indecision” among the officers.
Bhattacharya wrote that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued by CBDT for the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, an ambitious scheme announced by the government following demonetisation, were being violated with I-T officers now making calls to taxpayers and sending them SMSes, even issuing summons, apparently on the instructions of the top establishment.
Under PMGKY, a person who declares undisclosed income pays 30 per cent tax, a cess of 33 per cent on the tax paid and 10 per cent penalty, which adds up to around 50 per cent of the income. Besides, 25 per cent of the income is deposited in the PMGKY scheme with a lock-in period of four years at zero interest rate.
When contacted by The Indian Express, the CBDT said in a statement: “There is no chaos. Instructions are clear without any ambiguity. The high risk persons who did not respond to information about their deposits on departmental portal were subjected to on-the-spot verification. No officer was pressurised. No taxpayer was forced for PMGKY. It was only a voluntary scheme.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Bhattacharya confirmed that he had written the letter, but said, “I don’t want to comment.”
In the letter, Bhattacharya wrote: “Suddenly, Assessing Officers were (being) asked to conduct surveys….(and) pressurize the recalcitrant assesses to commit to participating in PMGKY.”
He added that “later the track changed to persuading the assesses to come under PMGKY over telephone, although this approach is diametrically opposite to the essence of the SOP… that there should not be any inter-personal interaction with the assesses…”
“Then followed the directions from the higher-ups to summon the assesses by issuing notices u/s 131, another blatant deviation (of the SOP),” he wrote.
Writing that all these directions were issued verbally, thus making the Assessing Officers “completely vulnerable to grievances and resentment of the general assessee”, Bhattarcharya asked Chandra to issue “unambiguous uniform guidelines…in writing” and “categorical direction on initiation of any coercive measures…in writing”.
Pointing at the arbitrariness and “apparent illegality involved” in such directions, he wrote, “Whenever new directions are being issued by the Principal Commissioner of Income Tax, it is told in a routine manner that the direction had been issued by the Board during the video conferences or through confidential communication. Unfortunately, neither the Assessing Officers nor the assessees are privy to these sources.”
In a scathing criticism of the top establishment, he wrote: “What is bothering the Assessing Officers most is the complete absence of leadership. Nobody knows what actually is to be done. Directions given are being changed on hourly basis, impossible targets for PMGKY are being set, daily reports containing 20-24 columns including information like no. of persons committed for PMGKY, amount committed etc. are being called on immediate basis.”
Pointing that “undue pressure” was being exerted under PMGKY, Bhattacharya wrote that “field-level officers are still facing the brunt of the idiosyncrasies of their higher-ups and expecting the worst.”
“What is at stake is not only the position of the Assessing Officers but also the image of the Department in the eyes of the general public,” read the letter.