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Tougher penalties for serious tax offences proposed
August, 17th 2007

Not paying your taxes in time could soon result in heftier fines and longer prison sentences if proposals being considered by the income-tax department are any indication. According to sources, as part of its proposed restructuring of penalties for tax-related offences, the department is planning to scale down the punishment for minor offences, while at the same time increasing penal provisions for major offences.

Failure to pay tax is punishable under section 276 (B) of the Income-Tax Act, 1961.

Commenting on the proposals, a tax official said, The threat of long imprisonment may create some amount of fear and induce evaders to pay their taxes. Up until now, there have been very few cases that have led to prosecution and imprisonment of offenders following investigations carried out by the department, the official pointed out.

Thats where the carrot-and-stick approach being considered by the department comes in. By reducing the penalty and length of imprisonment for some minor offences, it hopes to hasten prosecution of more serious offences and dispose of these cases faster.

The department is also pitching for judicial reforms on another front. In cases where documentary evidence is available, the department wants the assessing officer or any other tax official that may be involved to be exempt from physically appearing as a witness. This is because many cases drag on for years and even after a tax official retires, he is often called upon as a witness by the court.

If the departments proposals are implemented, the changes could be reflected in the Direct Tax Code, sources said. The issue was also discussed at the income-tax chief commissioners conference held last month under the agenda Launching prosecution and compounding offencesan effective mechanism for deterrence.

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