Retro tax panel to set norms to filter out ‘untenable’ demands

Jul 21 2014, 00:33 IST
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SummaryPanel may have power to reject AOs’ plan for scrutiny of certain cases

The high-level panel to be set up to review fresh retrospective tax cases will give instructions to the assessing officers (AOs) to avoid far-fetched and unsustainable tax demands even if it amounts to restricting the statutory authority of these quasi-judicial officers in taking up such cases. The panel would have the power to turn down the assessing officers’ plan for scrutiny of certain cases. Issue of demand notices could be pre-empted too.

The panel, the terms of reference of which is currently being finalised by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), however, may not give directions to the AOs to act in a certain way in the case of a specific company, as it might vitiate the process, sources said.

For this, the revenue department would rely on the 2003 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the CBDT’s power to restrict field officers from probing into the tax residence status of Mauritius-based foreign institutional investors by going beyond the residence certificates issued by the island nation, although the income tax law allows them to undertake detailed investigations to lift the corporate veil.

Industry has been waiting to see what relief the high-level panel announced by finance minister Arun Jaitly could provide from the rigors of the 2012 retrospective amendment of the Income Tax Act that sought to tax past transactions between offshore companies involving Indian assets.

Experts said that only offshore transactions involving Indian assets between 2008-09 and 2011-12 would be brought before the panel for review. Deals that happened before this period are already in courts, while provisions on indirect transfer of Indian assets become prospective from 2012, the year of its enactment.

“All such schemes are subject to the period of limitation in relation to commencement of proceedings in concluded cases of indirect transfer of Indian assets,” said Sunil Jain, Partner, J Sagar Associates.

While Jaitley made no attempt to repeal the 2012 retrospective amendments in the Budget speech, he promised the proposed high-level panel would review all fresh cases arising from the amendment before action is taken by officers. It appeared to be a tough call for a panel set up by the executive to give directions to quasi-judicial authorities implementing an Act of Parliament and provide significant relief to the industry without interfering with the officer’s statutory discretion.

The finance ministry officials explained the Board has powers flowing from the Supreme Court judgment in the Azadi Bachao Andolan case which held the CBDT

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