The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) has sent a missive to all assessing officers (AOs) to stick to protocol while pursuing cases of “limited scrutiny” and not resort to “fishing and roving inquiries” in such cases. The move comes at a time when the tax department’s field formations have apparently been on an overdrive after the demonetisation move brought large chunks of supposedly tax-evaded cash into the banking system. The department selects cases of “limited scrutiny” — which restricts probe into a single aspect rather than a complete appraisal of tax liability — through Computer Aided Scrutiny Selection (CASS). The data mined include annual information reports and 26AS, which includes tax payment/TDS history. In its latest direction to the assessing officers (AOs), the board said it has come across instances where AOs have ventured beyond their jurisdiction while making assessments in ‘limited scrutiny’ cases by initiating inquiries on new issues without following the due procedure.
“These instances have been viewed very seriously by the CBDT and in one case, the Central Inspection Team of CBDT was tasked with examination of assessment records on receipt of allegations of several irregularities,” the letter said. The CBDT in fact suspended the officer concerned after it was found that there was no reason recorded for expanding the scope of limited scrutiny. Violating standard operating procedure, the officer had not sought approval from principal commissioner for converting limited scrutiny cases into a complete scrutiny case. Moreover, the AO hadn’t maintained the order sheet properly, which gave rise to strong suspicion of mala fide intentions. The purpose of introducing ‘limited scrutiny’ was to curb overarching powers of AOs and improve ease of paying taxes. The CBDT has previously issued instruction to AOs to confine the questionnaire to the specific issues and complete the case expeditiously in a limited number of hearings.
The CBDT reiterated that AOs must maintain “order-sheet” properly by ensuring that the minutes of the hearing in a case are entered along with relevant date. Further, it said that the order-sheet must have entries for each posting, hearing and seeking and granting of adjournments. Order-sheet is meant to chronicle the progress of an assessment case by the concerned official. “Suspension of undisciplined officers clearly conveys the message that the government aims to make India’s taxation regime transparent, non-adversarial and taxpayer friendly. But the established fact is that real picture is drawn from the enforcement and not policy formulation. Hoping that the tax authorities follow the instructions diligently going forward and end the era a tax terrorism,” Rakesh Nangia, managing partner at Nangia & Co said.