Till now a large number of Indians were saving tax by parking their undisclosed income outside India and systematically avoiding to report it to Indian tax authorities by maintaining the status of non-resident (NR). However, they won’t be able to do so from now onwards. For, the Income Tax Department has recently introduced a new section in the tax return forms (ITR 1 & ITR 2), asking all non-resident individuals (including foreign nationals) to disclose details of their bank accounts outside India.
“This change has raised the eyebrows of many taxpayers as well as tax professionals as this is a surprising and sudden move. More so as this amendment in tax form is not having any precedent either in the tax laws or rules. Further, as per the existing tax laws, an NR is not required to pay any taxes on any income earned outside India nor is he required to report his foreign source assets in his tax return. Considering this, it is an obvious question for many as to what is the purpose of introducing this new section in tax return,” says Chetan Chandak, Head of Tax research, H&R Block India.
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A few people feel that this may be just a facility for an NR to claim the tax refund in his foreign account in case if he don’t have a bank account in India. But this argument does not seem to be in line with the changes made in the tax forms as there is still no option to select a foreign bank account for the tax refund. Another thought is that the government is trying to catch hold of those Indians (NRIs) who have parked their undisclosed income outside India and systematically avoiding to report it to Indian tax authorities by maintaining the status of Non-Resident Indian.
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By adding this new reporting requirement, tax department has put many genuine non-residents and foreign nationals (who cannot be called NRIs) in a situation where they will have to unnecessarily report all their financials even though they are doing no wrong. These NRs and foreign nationals also have valid concern about the security and privacy of the data shared, amidst all the speculation about the security of Aadhaar database. “It is interesting to observe that currently it is not mandatory for a non-resident taxpayer to report these foreign bank account and he can still e-file his tax return without filling up this information. But with the Indian government signing bilateral information agreements with many of the tax havens and other countries, it is very likely that this information will flow to the tax authorities very soon. In this case the taxpayer may be subjected to severe consequences if any irregularities are detected at a later point in time,” says Chandak.
It may be noted that these changes have been made in the tax return forms for AY 2017-18; hence are applicable for FY 2016-17 itself.