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Govt clears cloud over NGO tax breaks
March, 08th 2010

The Income Tax department has got the power to cancel any charitable organisations registration that accords it the benefit of tax exemption. The department can annul the registration and the exemption emanating from it if the organisation is found to violate the norms for registration, according to Budget 2010-11.

By this move, the government has made its intent to prevail over a series of court judgments, which held that the I-T department did not have the right to cancel registration of organisations with it.

The government provides relief to specified not-for-profit or charitable organisations under Section 12A of the Income Tax Act. A registration with the Income Tax department cannot be taken away by an I-T commissioner if violations are found, some courts had said earlier.

However, the Budget proposal has said, "The power of cancellation of registration is inherent and flows from the authority of granting exemption."

Many organisations that are registered under the Section of the I-T law have had a tiff with the department that sought to cancel their registration on alleged violations of the rules.

Such organisations have to maintain books of accounts for any commercial activity undertaken by them and if they fail to do so, the taxman enjoys the authority to question the concerned entity on the issue. The Budget proposal now gives the taxman the additional power to cancel the registration.

There were instances where the exemptions were being misused by the organisations, official sources said, adding that the object of the organisation stated in the registration was often changed without any knowledge of the tax department.

"I think this (the Budget proposal to empower the I-T department) is an appropriate move. Someone who gives a licence or with whom you register, the same organisation should also have the power to cancel the registration or licence," said senior chartered accountant and ICAI vice-president G Ramaswamy.

In 2008, however, in a case of an appeal made by NGOs whose registration was cancelled by the tax department, the court had said that such a measure cannot be taken.

The Budget proposal has pointed out that judicial rulings in some cases have held that commissioner does not have the power to cancel the registration obtained by a trust or institution as it is not specifically mentioned in Section 12AA.

"It is therefore, proposed to amend Section 12AA so as to provide that the commissioner can also cancel the registration obtained under Section 12AA," the Finance Bill 2010-11 has said.

Charitable organisations would, however, be given a chance to be heard by the tax commissioner before he decides to cancel the registration.

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