Presently, an assessment can be re-opened up to 6 years and in serious tax fraud cases for up to 10 years. As a result, taxpayers have to remain under uncertainty for a long time.
It has been proposed to reduce this time-limit for re-opening of assessment to 3 years from the present 6 years. In serious tax evasion cases too, only where there is evidence of concealment of income of `50 lakh or more in a year, can the assessment be re-opened up to 10 years. Even this reopening can be done only after the approval of the Principal Chief Commissioner, the highest level of the Income Tax Department.
Income escaping assessment and search assessments
Under the Act, the provisions related to income escaping assessment provide that if the Assessing Officer has reason to believe that any income chargeable to tax has escaped assessment for any assessment year, he may assess or reassess or recompute the total income for such year under section 147 of the Act by issuing a notice under section 148 of the Act. However, such reopening is subject to the time limits prescribed in section 149 of the Act.
In cases where search is initiated u/s 132 of the Act or books of account, other documents or any assets are requisitioned under section 132A of the Act, assessment is made in the case of the assessee, or any other person, in accordance with the special provisions of sections 153A, 153B, 153C and 153D, of the Act that deal specifically with such cases. These provisions were introduced by the Finance Act, 2003 to replace the block assessment under Chapter XIV-B of the Act. This was done due to failure of block assessment in its objective of early resolution of search assessments. Also, the procedural issues related to block assessment were proving to be highly litigation-prone. However, the experience with this procedure has been no different. Like the provisions for block assessment, these provisions have also resulted in a number of litigations.
Due to advancement of technology, the department is now collecting all relevant information related to transactions of taxpayers from third parties under section 285BA of the Act (statement of financial transaction or reportable account). Similarly, information is also received from other law enforcement agencies. This information is also shared with the taxpayer through Annual Information Statement under section 285BB of the Act. Department uses this information to verify the information declared by a taxpayer in the return and to detect non-filers or or those who have not disclosed the correct amount of total income. Therefore, assessment or reassessment or re-computation of income escaping assessment, to a large extent, is information-driven.
In view of above, there is a need to completely reform the system of assessment or reassessment or re-computation of income escaping assessment and the assessment of search related cases.
The Bill proposes a completely new procedure of assessment of such cases. It is expected that the new system would result in less litigation and would provide ease of doing business to taxpayers as there is a reduction in time limit by which a notice for assessment or reassessment or re-computation can be issued. The salient features of new procedure are as under:-
(i) The provisions of section 153A and section 153C, of the Act are proposed to be made applicable to only search initiated under section 132 of the Act or Books of accounts, other documents or any assets requisitioned under section 132A of the Act, on or before 31st March 2021.
(ii) Assessments or reassessments or in re-computation in cases where search is initiated under section 132 or requisition is made under 132A, after 31st March 2021, shall be under the new procedure.
(iii) Section 147 proposes to allow the Assessing Officer to assess or reassess or re-compute any income escaping assessment for any assessment year (called relevant assessment year).
(iii) Before such assessment or reassessment or re-computation, a notice is required to be issued under section 148 of the Act, which can be issued only when there is information with the Assessing officer which suggests that the income chargeable to tax has escaped assessment in the case of the assessee for the relevant assessment year. Prior approval of specified authority is also required to be obtained before issuance of such notice by the Assessing Officer.
(iv) It is proposed to provide that any information which has been flagged in the case of the assessee for the relevant assessment year in accordance with the risk management strategy formulated by the Board shall be considered as information which suggests that the income chargeable to tax has escaped assessment. The flagging would largely be done by the computer based system.
(v) Further, a final objection raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to the effect that the assessment in the case of the assessee for the relevant assessment year has not been in accordance with the provisions of the Act shall also be considered as information which suggests that the income chargeable to tax has escaped assessment.
(vi) Further, in search, survey or requisition cases initiated or made or conducted, on or after 1st April, 2021, it shall be deemed that the Assessing officer has information which suggests that the income chargeable to tax has escaped assessment in the case of the assessee for the three assessment years immediately preceding the assessment year relevant to the previous year in which the search is initiated or requisition is made or any material is seized or requisitioned or survey is conducted.
(vii) New Section 148A of the Act proposes that before issuance of notice the Assessing Officer shall conduct enquiries, if required, and provide an opportunity of being heard to the assessee. After considering his reply, the Assessing Office shall decide, by passing an order, whether it is a fit case for issue of notice under section 148 and serve a copy of such order along with such notice on the assessee. The Assessing Officer shall before conducting any such enquiries or providing opportunity to the assessee or passing such order obtain the approval of specified authority. However, this procedure of enquiry, providing opportunity and passing order, before issuing notice under section 148 of the Act, shall not be applicable in search or requisition cases.
(viii) The time limitation for issuance of notice under section 148 of the Act is proposed to be provided in section 149 of the Act and is as below:
in normal cases, no notice shall be issued if three years have elapsed from the end of the relevant assessment year. Notice beyond the period of three years from the end of the relevant assessment year can be taken only in a few specific cases.
in specific cases where the Assessing Officer has in his possession evidence which reveal that the income escaping assessment, represented in the form of asset, amounts to or is likely to amount to fifty lakh rupees or more, notice can be issued beyond the period of three year but not beyond the period of ten years from the end of the relevant assessment year;
Another restriction has been provided that the notice under section 148 of the Act cannot be issued at any time in a case for the relevant assessment year beginning on or before 1st day of April, 2021, if such notice could not have been issued at that time on account of being beyond the time limit prescribed under the provisions of clause (b), as they stood immediately before the proposed amendment.
Since the assessment or reassessment or re-computation in search or requisition cases (where such search or requisition is initiated or made on or before 31st March 2021) are to be carried out as per the provision of section 153A, 153B, 153Cand 153D of the Act, the aforesaid time limitation shall not apply to such cases.
It is also proposed that for the purposes of computing the period of limitation for issue of section 148 notice, the time or extended time allowed to the assessee in providing opportunity of being heard or period during which such proceedings before issuance of notice under section 148 are stayed by an order or injunction of any court, shall be excluded. If after excluding such period, time available to the Assessing Officer for passing order, about fitness of a case for issue of 148 notice, is less than seven days, the remaining time shall be extended to seven days.
(ix) The specified authority for approving enquiries, providing opportunity, passing order under section 148A of the Act and for issuance of notice under section 148 of the Act are proposed to be —
(a) Principal Commissioner or Principal Director or Commissioner or Director, if three years or less than three years have elapsed from the end of the relevant assessment year;
(b) Principal Chief Commissioner or Principal Director General or where there is no Principal Chief Commissioner or Principal Director General, Chief Commissioner or Director General, if more than three years have elapsed from the end of the relevant assessment year.
(x) Once assessment or reassessment or re-computation has started the Assessing officer is proposed to be empowered (as at present) to assess or reassess the income in respect of any issue which has escaped assessment and which comes to his notice subsequently in the course of the proceeding under this procedure notwithstanding that the procedure prescribed in section 148A was not followed before issuing such notice for such income.
These amendments will take effect from 1st April, 2021.