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Tax dept on year-end overdrive
February, 23rd 2012

Under pressure from the North Block to meet budget targets, several chief commissioners of Income Tax have started making tax claims over and above what companies had filed in their tax returns.

This is in addition to the government going slow on refunds as it faces direct tax shortfall of over Rs 40,000 crore, sources said. Despite protests, the standard response offered by income tax officials has been to get companies to deposit at least 50% of their fresh tax liability before their appeal can be heard by an appellate authority. The rules, however, stipulate that the government cannot force a taxpayer to deposit the disputed amount before h/his right to first appeal.

The recent initiative follows a diktat from Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) chairman Laxman Das in early February suggesting that missing the target given to officials will impact their appraisal and "will also be a major factor while considering placements in 2012". CBDT spokesperson Anuja Sarangi was unavailable for comments. Till February 20, according to assessment made at CBDT, the net tax collection was estimated at Rs 3.60 lakh crore against the Budget Estimate (BE) of Rs 5.32 lakh crore for 2011-12. While 20% growth is required to meet the BE, actual realization indicates an increase of 10% till February.

With only a month to go this year, there is sudden anxiety within the finance ministry on achieving the budget estimates, especially in view of the rising subsidy bill and the government's inability to meet the Rs 40,000-crore disinvestment target.

Chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council C Rangarajan said the GDP will grow by 7.1% this year, bettering the advance estimates of the Central Statistical Organization that had pegged the growth at 6.9%. CBDT's own estimates suggest that direct tax collections will be Rs 35,000 crore short of the target. Consequently, CBDT has asked its field units to go slow on clearing refunds.

On the indirect tax front, the government on Wednesday expressed optimism that it would reach the Budget target of Rs 3.92 lakh crore with the Central Board of Excise and Customs achieving a total collection of Rs 3.17 lakh crore till January, 2012, which is 81% of the target. On Wednesday, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee goaded the indirect tax wing of the revenue department to meet the budget target, though things look much more settled there.

Banking on an unexpected growth in the service tax that grew by 37% in April-January, finance secretary R S Gujral said the indirect tax collection would cross Rs 4 lakh crore. Service Tax collection in the first 10 months was Rs 75,400 crore; excise mop up during this period was Rs 1.17 lakh crore and Customs duty accounted for Rs 1.24 lakh crore.

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