Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Honest Taxpayers

“I have some more cases for you”, my surrogate trainer (ST) announced.

It was around 10 days since my “On Job Training” (OJT) began. He handed me a case bang on the day I reported to him. It was a case where the investigations were in progress. He asked me to study it, find Grey areas and prepare a questionnaire. That he served my questionnaire on the assessee[1] without much change was a tacit acknowledgment that I did a decent job. Or atleast I concluded it that way. Self-confidence building measures, you see. The assessee asked for time to file his reply. It was at this juncture that my ST announced that he had more cases in store for me.

I was happy because going through these files was certainly more interesting than observing office procedures like maintenance of records, handling mails etc. And, occasionally, you also get some page 3 pleasures when you see where and how the rich and famous have their wealth made or stored. I looked forward to the next case as it was an opportunity to prove that my previous efforts were not a fluke and I did have some soft mass beneath my hard skull. Not that my ST doubted; He was fine trainer who seemed to believe positively in the potentials of young officers. It is just that I did not want to prove him wrong like I did to most of my teachers who taught me previously.

Files of three cases were brought and placed on the large table of my ST. I picked up the case with the bulkiest of files. It is said that the best way to overcome the fear of something is to face it. And that was precisely what I was trying to do. Get over the fear of files, more importantly, the real fat ones. I took them back to my desk. STs are usually range heads, whose functions are mainly supervisory. He would have around five assessing officers under him who would scrutinse the Income Tax returns filed in the range. The range head does not do the scrutinies. However, in recent years, the range heads have been asked to scrutinise the top 20 cases in their jurisdiction. The case given to me was one such case. I found that my ST had begun investigations and had called for a lot of information from the assessee. He virtually called for proofs of every source of income and every source of expenditure. That explained why those files were so bulky. The assessee too seemed to be a meticulous person. He filed every detail that was called for; That too in a very neat and organised manner. I was impressed.

For the next three days, I perused through the documents. As with most cases, it took sometime to grasp the orientation of the case. True, I had a briefing about the activities of the assessee. But trying to deduce the line of investigation from the documents produced does take some time. Especially, when it is just the second case you are seeing. After three days of perusal, I was utterly frustrated. I could just come up with one issue. In the last case, where the file had just around one-third of documents in the present case, I came up with seven issues. When I brought to my ST's notice, the sole anomaly detected by me, he casually replied that it was already brought to the notice of the assessee, who conceded it. Wow. So that is a clean zero. The following day such was my desperation that I even began to verify the conveyance bills. I called up my friend who lived in Bangalore for four years and asked him the distance between various places in Bangalore and the corresponding taxi charges. This yielded just what my previous efforts in this case yielded. Nothing.

Finally, I gave up. The following morning, when my ST asked the progress in the case, I confessed that I could not detect anything. He seemed to be least perturbed. He made me understand something, remembering which, would hold me good stead in days to come. It not necessary that I always succeed. There would be honest taxpayers and in such cases any amount of scrutiny would not yield anything. Wisdom lies in accepting this fact. There is no point in passing orders making additions to taxable income merely because I have spent days investigating a case and I cannot accept the result to be nothing. It is not a question whether such orders would stand the test of the appellate authorities. They are sure to be knocked down. But in the process, it creates undue hardship to the taxpayer and avoidable workload to my colleagues. Instead, accept the income offered to tax and close the case.

After that day, I went through many files. And not a single one was flawless. But yes, that one file taught me that honest taxpayers are not a realm of fiction. They exist. I may not come across them very frequently. But I should accept one when I come across.

[1] The process of scrutiny of Income Tax returns is termed as assessment. The person being assessed in a case is the assessee.