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Teething troubles rock e-filing of tax returns
November, 06th 2006
Users dogged by glitches in portal, slow downloads and high upload time

Adoption of new technology is known to often encounter initial teething problems, as the Income-Tax Department and corporate taxpayers are realising.

The I-T Department's initiative to implement e-filing of tax returns has turned out to be a cumbersome affair for corporate taxpayers.

The very purpose for introducing this system is being defeated by the glitches in the e-filing portal, frustratingly slow downloads and high uploading time.

Several assesses have complained that the Web site that supports the filing process is awfully slow and not as user-friendly as expected.

Even accessing the site is often a problem, which is accentuated by frequent crashes.

"There is no denying the benefits in e-filing of returns, but it should be introduced systematically. In this case, it has added to the woes of corporate taxpayers," said Mr M.M. Chitale, past President, Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).

"Assessees are facing problems because of several technical imperfections in the filing system.

"The Department has done a good job in facilitating e-filing of tax returns; but it could have fared better had the Department implemented it in a graded, tested and systematic manner."

Major headaches

Tax consultants and chartered accountants say that the portal hangs on minor typewriting errors such as extra spacing between words.

Also, downloading the return form involves hours of staring at a blank computer screen.

Not only that, converting the voluminous `5-schedule' file into an Excel spreadsheet (an XML e-return file) is even more time-consuming and burdensome.

Schedules pertaining to tax reduction and deduction and collection account number (TAN) are the toughest to process and run, they add.

According to sources at the I-T Department, only 60 tax offices in the country are linked with the Department's intranet connection.

This makes assessment all the more difficult for officers in non-connected areas.

What has compounded the confusion this year is the revision of time limit for completing scrutiny and assessment of filed returns.

Following an amendment introduced in The Finance Bill, 2006, the time limit for completion of assessments has been revised from March 31 to December 31.

I-T officers can take up time-barring scrutiny work only after all returns are filed (effective December 1, in this year's case). That leaves only a month for assessment officers to conduct scrutiny, call for clarifications and pass assessment order and demand notice.

"I-T officers will have to dispose of cases at a faster pace, compromising on the quality of scrutiny and assessment. Shortage of adequate staff in assistant/deputy commissioner cadres (who deal with corporate returns) will worsen the situation. All this could result in faulty assessments and wrong tax additions," said Mr Rajesh Menon, Convenor, Joint Council Action, I-T Department.

The assessment dates, in principle, were revised to complete assessment process systematically and expeditiously. The revised schedule will give the department enough time for follow-up actions like recovery, appeals and refunds.

"We have to oblige a string of direct and indirect taxes in October and November. Holidays and festivals bring down the number of working days, making the compliance period shorter," said Mr Jitendra Sanghvi, a chartered accountant in Mumbai.

"Lack of adequate preparation time will make our submissions and clarifications weaker, which will in turn affect the taxpayer. The Government should allocate sufficient time gaps for complying with various levy formalities."

Shailesh Menon

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