FM P Chidambaram never tires of thinking up new ways to shore up revenues for the income tax department. And fortunately, this time around, his thoughts may not end up taxing people.
Currently, the tax department is in possession of 60-70 properties spread across seven cities. These properties are worth a few hundred crores and Chidambaram wants the department to explore the Internet and e-auctions as a tool to dispose them.
Sources in North Block said the minister thinks online auctions are popular in the real estate business. This popularity, ought to be leveraged by the central board of direct taxes (CBDT).
The properties that the income tax department currently has in its possession range from independent bungalows to flats and official premises in key metros.
Most of them were taken over as part of the tax recovery process by the Appropriate Authority a wing of the department that was closed down in 2002. This wing had the power to acquire any property over Rs 30 lakh if it found the sale or purchase of the property undervalued.
"Most of our properties are litigation free. But we got a timid response whenever these were put on the auction block,"sources said.
In one case, the department at Bangalore tried to sell prime properties owned by fake stamp-paper scamster, Abdul Kareem Lala Telgi. The auction did not invoke much interest.
Only one property on Palace Road was sold for Rs 1.43 crore to Le Meridien Hotels. They were the only bidders who offered to buy the place at the reserve price.
There were no bidders for two other properties even as the tax department is trying to recover arrears of about Rs 11.85 crore from Telgi. They eventually called off the auction.
"Electronic auctions will allow people living in different cities to participate, and will hopefully generate better response,"sources said.
They added that CB Richard Ellis, the realty firm has been consulted by the tax department on the process.
Ironically, the government may be the only impediment to the department adopting this route. Its rules don't allow the tax department to opt for electronic auctions as a medium to sell property.
In India, e-auctions came into the limelight last year after HSBC sold a 28,000 sq ft bungalow, Runnymede, for about Rs 42 crore.
However, experts like Raja Kaushal, chief executive officer of Betterhomes India, say that globally e-auctions are preferred in the construction business where the project needs to be awarded to the lowest bidder.
In US, there are strict laws for e-auctioning. In case there is any misrepresentation, the individual can get the money back. India lacks this regulatory infrastructure.