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CBDT mulls peer review of tax orders
September, 17th 2015

The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) wants to make it easier to pay taxes in India. And the measures to be introduced in the near future, after obtaining an internal committee's report, could include peer review of assessment orders in certain cases. The concept of a peer review, CBDT feels, would improve the quality of the assessment process and send the right signal to large domestic and foreign taxpayers.

The recommendation of a peer review of select assessment orders was made by the Tax Administration Reform Committee (TARC) in its report in May last year.

A committee was recently set up to examine the efficacy of the TARC recommendation and also another suggestion to shift away from the current territorial operational structure of tax administration towards a one that is more functional and industry specialized.

An internal memorandum notifying the setting up of this committee under the leadership of V K Saxena, principal commissioner, Delhi, adds, "The department has already accepted the recommendation (of TARC) to create large business service units to assess large and complex cases on a pilot basis."

As regards peer review of assessment orders, TARC had recommended: "The assessment team could comprise more than one assessing officer (AO) in complex cases. In cases where the tax assessed by the AO is higher than what the taxpayer considers is due and the addition proposed is more than a specified amount, the amount should be approved by a team of superiors from outside the AO's jurisdiction. This would bring quality to the assessment orders, as there would be a peer review. The taxpayer should be allowed to explain his position to the team of superiors and the draft order should be finalized based on the final directions."

The tax department has on many occasions come in for flak from courts, as assessment orders have been passed and tax demands raised even when there existed applicable court judgments in favour of the taxpayer. Besides, in some cases, especially regarding transfer pricing, tax demands have been perceived as high pitched and have sent the wrong signal among investors. "Peer assessment could help mitigate such instances and send the right signals to domestic and foreign taxpayers," said a government official.

TARC had also pointed out that against the dominant global trend, the organization of the tax administration in India continues to be by tax-type and geographical (territorial), rather than functional. Thus, there is insufficient consistency in the quality of services, lack of ensured and supervised focus on key common areas, and inadequate monitoring of results other than the revenue target.

It had suggested that taxpayers should be segmented into large business services (LBS), medium and small taxpayers. To bring synergy between direct and indirect taxes, services and operations for large taxpayers need to be handled by joint teams of officers from the two administrations so that these taxpayers are handled on the basis of an account management concept. The LBS segment should get adequate assistance from internal specialists. TARC had also suggested that each large taxpayer should also be assigned a relationship manager who would be the single point of contact for the taxpayer. The relationship manager would also supervise the compliance and service teams within the tax department.

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