Change mindset: Sitharaman tells taxmen

Tuesday 20th August 2019 15:27 EDT

Addressing a meeting of senior officials of income tax and GST wings in Gujarat, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman emphasised on a mindset change in tax officials while advocating a technology-driven approach. “Tax administrators have a very delicate role to perform. A mindset change is needed to cater to an informed citizenry,” she told the income tax officials in Ahmedabad.

Amid allegations of “tax terrorism”, Sitharaman had proposed the introduction of “faceless assessment” in her maiden Budget in July this year, saying that there would be no human intervention while scrutinising the tax return. Echoing PM Narendra Modi’s resolve of rolling out measures to ensure that honest taxpayers are not harassed, Sitharaman underscored curtailing the interface of taxpayers with authorities. “The use of technology and faceless assessment is the need of the hour in tax administration today,” the minister said.

The finance minister’s remarks came days after the tax department made it mandatory for all its officers to not issue any order, notice, summons, or any other correspondence without a computer-generated Document Identification Number (DIN) in an attempt to avoid misuse of official communication to harass taxpayers. Sitharaman mentioned in no uncertain terms that discussions with tax assesses should go smoothly, “There is no need for tax officials to visit the assessees. Instead, use technology to simplify the process so that repeatedly seeking information is not necessary. As far as assessees and their issues are concerned, we must communicate with them and solve issues by treating them respectfully,” she said.

In an interview last week, Modi had said that the government will roll out measures to reduce harassment amid fresh complaints of intimidation and strong-arm tactics being deployed by tax authorities. These voices have grown louder in recent weeks after Cafe Coffee Day founder V G Siddhartha committed suicide and, in a purported note, accused harassment by a senior income tax officer.

Respect wealth creators

A top I-T official said that Sitharaman stressed on creating a “taxpayer-friendly” environment. “The finance minister asked us to respect wealth creators and facilitate them by cutting down unnecessary procedural delays. She asked us to remain more humane in our approach,” the official said. Sitharaman later engaged in a detailed discussion with industry representatives.

Sitharaman, meanwhile, remained non-committal on stimulus package for the industry. She said, “We are analysing what steps should be taken now. When the government is ready, an announcement will be made at the right time.”

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