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Govt aims to halve pending tax disputes
January, 21st 2016

The government plans to halve pending tax disputes as it looks to make the tax administration citizen-friendly.
Revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia told TOI that the government was moving to first unclog disputes at the level of tax department's commissioner (appeals), the first port of call for taxpayers, by seeking clearance of low-value cases.

"The entire focus has been on big cases. We are asking the commissioner (appeals) to deal with small cases and bunch similar cases. This will go a long way in reducing pendency. The idea is to reduce litigation by half," Adhia said. He, however, did not elaborate on what are "small cases".

A similar strategy will be adopted for Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) and high courts and the Supreme Court too, with bunching of cases being a key area. The revenue secretary said that he discussed the issue with the law secretary, who seems to have endorsed the plan. He added that the Supreme Court too was in favour of bunching of cases to reduce pendency.

Tax litigation is often cited as a major hurdle by both domestic and international investors and the government is taking steps to address the concern. Adhia identified reducing litigation and easier/quicker refunds as focus areas, for which the government has received positive feedback from taxpayers. So far, 1.8 crore refunds for assessment year 2015-16 have been processed, he said. In the past, refunds have been held up for years as the government sought to show healthier finances.
Data released by the government showed that over Rs 5 lakh crore was locked up in disputes at various levels, with some of the cases going back over 10 years. In value terms, over half the cases related to income tax with 30% of the cases involving corporation tax. In terms of various forums where cases are pending, the maximum number and the amount was with ITAT, where the government has simplified the rules. But, a vast majority seemed to be with the commissioner (appeals) across the country.
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The government had last month said that it was raising the monetary limit for filing appeals to Rs 10 lakh in appellate tribunal (Rs 4 lakh at present) and Rs 20 lakh in high courts, while deciding to withdraw appeals in the two forums where the new threshold did not apply. "We are monitoring the developments closely for whatever follow up that may be required," Adhia said.

The revenue department's effort to drastically reduce the number of pending tax cases is a welcome step. The simplest way to achieve this is to reduce complexity and ambiguity in tax laws. A low rate of tax with few or no exemptions would go a long way towards minimising litigation on tax matters than any other step. Committees after committees have suggested such a tax structure for years, and it is about time the idea is translated into reality.

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