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Staff crunch hits I-T returns scrutiny
May, 31st 2008
Taxpayers worried about their income-tax returns being picked up for scrutiny by tax authorities may breathe a bit easier this year. The Central Board of Direct Taxes is planning to change parameters used by the department's computer-aided scrutiny selection (CASS) system to reduce the number of assessments taken by each tax official for scrutiny.

The reason behind such plan is that the I-T department is facing a severe shortage of staff. The number of assessment cases under each tax official has risen dramatically from 60 in 2004 to about 140 last fiscal. It's impossible for one person to assess so many cases in a year, an official source pointed out.

Currently, the CASS system randomly selects cases for scrutiny based on a number of criteria, including purchases over a certain amount, deductions over Rs 25 lakh and refunds over Rs 5 lakh. The parameters were likely to be reduced so that slightly fewer cases come up for scrutiny, the official said.

The issue is scheduled to be discussed at the annual conference of chief commissioners and directors-general of income tax, to be held on June 9 and 10. The income-tax department usually revises scrutiny norms after the annual conference, where the action plan for the entire fiscal is discussed, according to the source.

But going easy on scrutiny cases does not mean the department will relax securing compliance. However, the department will continue to focus on increasing compliance. It is planning to further strengthen the tax deducted at source (TDS) system and bring in more checks into it.

Meanwhile, as a measure to generate additional revenue, tax officials are also planning to push harder for the recovery of tax arrears. According to official figures, direct tax arrear demands amount to about Rs 79,076 crore. While a large chunk of this is unlikely to be realised, tax officials are proposing to attach movable and immovable property of some such assessees with a view to recovering at least a part of the pending tax liability. Moreover, to have uniformity in its assessment orders and to prevent litigation, the income-tax department also plans to create an internal database of its previous orders and cases. Income-tax laws, like most other laws, are largely based on interpretation, leading to a lot of confusion and litigation, a tax official said. The proposed database will help officials decide on contentious issues, as they would be able to

refer to previous cases. The computerisation of the department is another key issue to be discussed at the conference, according to sources. The income-tax department was keen to expand its computerisation programme to encourage electronic filing and processing of returns, the sources added.

At the conference, which will be attended by income-tax officials from all over the country, internal targets for direct tax collection will also be set. According to the Budget estimate for 2008-09, revenue from direct tax is estimated at Rs 3,64,675 crore compared with over Rs 3,12,000 crore collected in the last fiscal....

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