To reduce Centre’s tax cases, the finance ministry is contemplating a further increase in the monetary limit for filing the appeals in tax appellate tribunals, high courts and Supreme Court.
On August 22, finance ministry’s revenue department told the department of justice that “they have conducted a litigation conference and are also trying to increase the money limit further” for filing the appeals. The Department of Justice had called a meeting with various central government’s departments on the topic of “reducing government litigations” at August 22.
On December 25, 2015, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) issued a circular increasing the monetary limits for filing appeals to Rs 10 lakh, Rs 20 lakh and Rs 25 lakh for ITAT (Income Tax Appellate Tribunal), High Courts and Supreme Court, respectively. Similarly, on December 30, 2016, the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) announced that it would not file appeals below the threshold limit of Rs Rs 10 lakh, Rs 20 lakh and Rs 25 lakh in CESTAT (Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal), High Courts and Supreme Court, respectively. The CBEC and CBDT work under the revenue department of finance ministry.
According to the minutes of the August 22 meeting, the revenue department has “informed that after taking several measures during the last few months, pendency has gone down but the number of pending cases is still quite high … 6,357 cases are pending in the Supreme Court, about 38,500 cases in high courts and 94,000 cases in ITAT”. The finance ministry did not respond to the queries sent by The Indian Express.
The minutes of the meeting also state: “Increasing the monetary limit for filing appeals before ITAT, high courts and Supreme Court has resulted in appeals withdrawal to the tune of 17,031…They (revenue department) have also identified about 6,000 cases which are fit for withdrawal from high courts and CESTAT, out of these 5,480 cases have been withdrawn.”
While addressing the tax department officials of central government and various state governments at Rajasva Gyan Sangam at New Delhi on September 1, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his dismay at the huge pendency of tax-related cases in adjudication and appeal. He said big sums of money that is locked up in these cases, could have been used for the welfare of the poor.
Earlier, terming central government as the biggest litigant, the Bombay High Court in July 2014 rebuked the income tax department stating that it ought to be aware of the pendency of cases in the high courts and should work towards reducing frivolous and speculative litigation, which involves public money that cannot be wasted in such litigation. Acknowledging the criticism faced from various courts over the quality of appeals filed, the income tax department had subsequently asked its officials to ensure that “frivolous appeals are not filed and where an appeal is filed, proper grounds of appeal or questions of law are framed”.
On June 5, 2017, the Department of Justice held the first meeting on the topic of reducing government litigations. Representatives from CBDT, CBEC as well as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) were present at the first meeting. At this meeting, the ED official stated that 2365 cases are being “examined” and they have sent a proposal to the revenue department to withdraw these cases.
According to the minutes of the June 5 meeting, the ED representative stated: “In cases of money laundering matters, special efforts are being taken to ensure that affidavits are filed on time and plea for early hearing is also being filed.”
On June 5, 2017, the CBDT representative stated: “For pending appeals, a two pronged approach” is being followed: Based on the methods adopted, 325 cases of Rs 100 crore and above were addressed and were disposed in the last 6-7 months. Further, 625 appeals which are pending in various courts/forums in the country have been identified and shall be addressed.”
According to the data collated by the income tax department, of the appeals filed by the department in ITAT, 52 per cent were decided against it in 2011-12, rising to 58 per cent in 2014-15. Similarly, in the Supreme Court, 39 per cent appeals were decided against the income tax department in 2011-12, rising to 43 per cent in 2014-15. In high court, the number of appeals decided against the income tax department stood at 59 per cent in the last fiscal vis-a-vis 63 per cent in 2011-12.
The CBEC representative stated at the June 5 meeting: “A limit of 70 cases has been decided by the Department for disposal by the commissioner of appeal per month. He also stated that a dedicated panel of experts in indirect tax matters comprising of Junior and Senior Standing Counsel has been constituted for representing the Department in High Courts. He stated that the Department is planning to formulate more policies for fixing monetary limits for comissioner of appeals on the same terms as those set for CESTAT.