For the first time perhaps the Central Board of Direct Taxes has chosen to consciously undermine a hoary law still extant, the one Parliament has chosen not to repeal. The tax administration has been exhorting taxpayers not to set store by the TDS certificates they receive, but by what appears in the Tax Information Network (TIN) as tax credit available to them by way of advance tax, tax collected at source and deducted at source.
What this meant was no matter what the TDS certificates said, the TIN information would be held as final and sacrosanct. And more galling would be a situation where a taxpayer has paid an instalment of advance tax, but can't claim credit for the same because the bank with which the amount has been deposited has goofed up.
TIN information is compiled out of what the banks with which tax deducted at source is deposited upload into the system and TDS certificates are issued by employers and others obliged to deduct tax at source.
The peremptory message is in case of discrepancy between the two, the former would prevail. This was the first step in dethroning of TDS certificates through an administrative fiat without the backing of the Parliamentary approval.
Going a step further, the tax administration now has exhorted the tax deductors not to issue Form 16/16A on the basis of their own accounting information, but on the basis of the TIN information. And this time round, the peremptory order is being flashed by the ticker in red appearing on its Web site. While the ticker might be construed as a belated attempt to forestall and pre-empt the discrepancy between TIN and TDS certificates by aligning the two peremptorily, the bottom-line is effective marginalisation nay annihilation of the true worth of TDS certificates.
The solution worked out by the CBDT to the problem of discrepancy inevitable in a dual system is ham-handed, to say the least. For, the Income-tax Act, 1961 still says that income-tax returns have to be filed on the basis of TDS certificates. Thus if a person has got in his possession TDS certificates obtained from various companies aggregating to Rs 25,000 whereas the TIN shows only Rs 20,000 to his credit, he can claim credit in his income-tax return only for Rs 20,000. . How can he be expected to bear the resultant interest liability for short payment of tax? And In the first place, how can the department place a burden on him for payment of Rs 5,000 when nothing is due from him and the fault is that of the system. The ham-handed solution being attempted is to ask these companies to look up the TIN, and not their own records before issuing the TDS certificates.
This begs the question - why go through the farce of TDS certificates when TIN is in any case going to overrule them.
The plausible explanation is the seeming respect for the mandate of Parliament that TDS certificates still rule the roost. The farce, confusion and contradiction are all going to be heightened when the Department goes ahead with its proposal evinced in its answer to a FAQ that soon it will start sending individual intimations of tax deducted at source to taxpayers from out of the information available in TIN.
Should this happen they would have two sets of documents in their hands - TDS certificates and the consolidated statement 26AS emanating out of TIN. The Department would like the taxpayers to junk the former if they do not reflect faithfully what has been stated in the statement of tax deducted i.e. 26AS. The ticker seeks to nip this possibility in the bud by calling upon tax deductors to set store by TIN, and not by their own records while issuing the certificates. Shouldn't Parliament step in and assert itself? Does it want to give the quietus to the TDS certificates regime?
A dual regime is always confusing and calls for needless reconciliation. Hence, a single unified regime is desirable. But the mandate for this has to come from the Parliament. While migrating to this regime it must be ensured that taxpayers are not put to trouble which is likely to happen should derelict tax deductors either sit on the tax deducted or are remiss in depositing them on time. Taxpayers should not be made to bear the cross for the shenanigans of the tax deductors or the inefficiency of the banking system or the TIN.
(The author is a Delhi-based chartered accountant.)