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Service tax amnesty scheme likely to be relaxed
March, 31st 2013

The scope of service tax amnesty scheme - Voluntary Compliance Encouragement Scheme (VCES) may be relaxed and expanded to include current assesses.

According to officials, the scheme as announced in the Union Budget 2013 was only for non-filers who are currently out of the service tax net. But to make the scheme more successful and appealing, the finance ministry may relax it and extend it to current assesses under investigation, audit, search or against whom summons have been issued.

The clause that VCES will not be made available to tax assesses against whom any inquiry or investigation is pending by issue of search warrant or summons or by way of audit is debarring a lot of cases. "Even when accounts have been called for scrutiny or a letter has been sent calling for the copy of the balance sheet, the person is debarred going by the present clauses in the scheme," said official sources.

Officials added that the experience of service tax dispute resolution mechanism announced by the government in 2004-05 was not very encouraging. Service tax is the lowest contributor to the exchequer even though the sector accounts for the highest share of India’s GDP. Therefore the scope of the VCES may be expanded, they added.

Currently, assessees against whom audit or investigations are on could opt for the compounding available under section 89.

Under the extant rules, the scheme can be availed by non-filers or short-filers (those have filed returns but have not paid dues or people who have not made truthful declaration of their return). There is one rider. Officials explained that even if only 700,000 assesses out of total of 1.7 million file service tax returns, the number of non-filers may be exaggerated.

This is because, even if service tax registrations are online and account for service tax payments by such parties, quite often, small enterprises shut down or change the line of business when the service tax registration is just on paper. There have been cases when tax payers have filed for cancellation of registration but the online platform has not been updated.

In its detailed guidelines outlined by the ministry till date, the defaulter of service tax opting for the scheme will have to deposit at least half the pending dues by December 2013 and the rest by June 30, 2014 without interest. Under the guidelines, full and final payment will have to made by December 31, 2014 with interest from July 1, 2014 on the remaining amount.

If the service tax payers comply with such conditions, there will be immunity from penalties and other proceedings against them. However they are required to make truthful declarations of all pending dues from October 2007 to December 31, 2012.

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