The Economic Survey 2018 report flagged concerns over the high rate of tax litigations in Indian courts with little success, saying that the biggest litigator is the tax department, which “unambiguously” loses 65% of its cases. Of the total number of direct tax cases pending by the quarter ending March 2017, the department initiated 88% of the litigation at ITATs and the Supreme Court and 83% of the litigation pending at High Courts. “The Department unambiguously loses 65% of its cases,” the survey conducted under CEA Arvind Subramanian said.
The Income Tax department appeals constitute nearly 85% of the total number of appeals filed in the case of direct taxes, though that number seems to have improved in the case of indirect taxes. It said that pendency, arrears and delays are not just a feature of courts and tribunals, but also the Tax Departments and their multi-layered process. The survey further noted that India’s courts are swamped with tax litigations even as the overall success rate in litigation is low and declining below 30%.
According to the data, the petition rate in the Supreme Court is 87%, while the success rate is only 27% in the direct tax case, while in indirect tax cases, the petition rate is 63% and the success rate is only 11%. Similarly, in High Courts, the petition rate is 83% and the success rate is only 13% in the direct tax case, while in indirect tax cases, the petition rate is 39% and the success rate is 46%.
“Delays and pendency of economic cases are high and mounting in the Supreme Court, High Courts, Economic Tribunals, and Tax Department, which is taking a severe toll on the economy in terms of stalled projects, mounting legal costs, contested tax revenues, and reduced investment more broadly,” the survey noted.
An analysis of six prominent appellate tribunals that deal exclusively with high stakes commercial matters revealed two patterns; first, there is a high level of pendency across the six tribunals, estimated at about 1.8 lakh cases, second, pendency has risen sharply over time. According to the survey, the average pendency of civil suits in Delhi High Court were 19,740; Delhi Lower Judiciary were 15,223; Bombay High Court 16,099 and Maharashtra Lower Judiciary were 1,02,931.
Only 0.2% of such cases accounted for 56% of the value at stake, while about 66% of pending cases (each less than Rs.10 lakhs) accounted for only 1.8% of the value at stake. “One reason for the rising pendency of economic cases at the High Courts could simply be the generalized overload of cases,” the survey said. “Further, economic and commercial cases are usually complex, require economic expertise in their handling and disposal, and hence, require more judicial time.”