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Indirect tax ombudsman languishes on poor response from people
August, 20th 2012

Indirect tax ombudsmen,set up for faster disposal of complaints, have been languishing in their offices, with few aggrieved taxpayers approaching them for grievance redressal.

Of the seven offices of the indirect tax ombudsmen announced by the government last year, only three have started functioning and there, too, the number of complaints received in last three months has ranged between zero and two.

The Delhi ombudsman, who has Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh under jurisdiction, has received only eight complaints since April 2012.

complaints were valid, while the remaining six did not come under the scope and jurisdiction of this ombudsman.

The ombudsman cannot act on its own. It can take some action only when complaints come. But not many people are filing complaints at the moment. Perhaps they dont know there is a system like this, said Delhi Ombudsman S D Majumder.

Similarly, the Bangalore Ombudsman, with jurisdiction over Karnataka, Kerala and Lakshadweep, received only a couple of complaints, of which only one was valid.

The Lucknow Ombudsman, who also handles grievances from some of the bigger states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh, is still waiting for the first complainant.

In order to create awareness about the ombudsman, we intend to interact with traders and industry, with the help of various chambers of commerce and other trade bodies, said Bangalore Ombudsman Lalitha John.

People associated with these ombudsmen listed multiple reasons for a muted response.

While all agreed that many were not aware of it due to lack of publicity, some said, perhaps, there was a need to review the guidelines under which the ombudsman was set up.

The ombudsman has to deliver if it has to survive. A lot of people have apprehensions if they go to the ombudsman they would be harassed by revenue authorities, said one official, requesting anonymity.

Officials said the indirect tax ombudsman would take some time to pick up, as the direct tax ombudsman had also started getting response only in its second year.

They did not rule out going forward a case for widening the scope of the ombudsman and giving it more powers could be made.

In March 2011, the Union Cabinet had approved the creation of seven posts of Indirect Tax Ombudsman to be located at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Lucknow.

The ombudsman is yet to be appointed for Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta and Ahmedabad.

The indirect tax ombudsman has powers to receive complaints from tax payers relating to customs, excise and service tax and facilitate their satisfaction or settlement by agreement through conciliation and mediation between the revenue department and the aggrieved parties or by passing an award.

It can handle complaints relating to any delays in the issue of refund, rebate, adjudication, registration of tax payers, effecting appellate orders or release of seized books of account and assets, among others.

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