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Empty offices may hit tax mopup
July, 06th 2006

The finance ministry may have to scale down its direct tax collection target, thanks to an unanticipated shortage of officers and staff at the countrys income tax offices. Usually, the ministry revises targets only towards the end of the financial year in tune with the growth outlook.

This situation, a result of Centres sloppy promotion and HR policies, is likely to be discussed at the all India chief commissioners meeting which begins in Delhi on Tuesday.

The employee shortage has already forced Mumbai, which accounts for 40% of the countrys direct tax collections, to recommend a whopping Rs 5,000 crore cut in its target of Rs 69,000 crore.

Chief commissioners of other centres are also likely to press for reductions in tax targets, sources said. At the additional commissioner/deputy commissioner levelthe most crucial workforce of the department there are over 800 vacancies against a sanctioned strength of 1,974. Of this, nearly 80 vacancies are in Mumbai.

In Mumbai, an assistant commissioner is holding two portfolios. He is unable to produce quality work and the pressure to finish the work is increasing by the day, says a commissioner who was recently promoted.

As the deadline for completing assessment orders has been brought forward to December, the workload has almost doubled. With only six months left for the deadline, assistant commissioners are panicking as there are 200-250 assessment orders per charge to be passed, says an official.

The disgruntled officers are unable to take the pressure and the stress is likely to translate into poorly drafted assessment orders, sources say. In important cases where the company has a battery of tax professionals to work on its returns, at our end we have a single assistant commissioner, a part-time steno and two clerks to assist us, says an officer.

In 2001, the Centre had decided to reduce the workforce by 10% by capping the direct recruitment quota. But with the government not following the promotion policy, the shortage at the officer level has reached 35-40 % and at the non-officer level at over 20%.

Most assistant commissioners are forced to type their own assessment orders as there are no steno graphers, says an official. For instance in Mumbai, of the sanctioned strength of 358 stenos, 332 posts are vacant. At the assistant commissioner level, promotions are pending since last two years. Even the seniority list has not been revised since 1999,sources said.

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