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COVID-19: I-T body warns of ‘Himalayan blunder’ if March 31 deadline not extended

NEW DELHI: Two major employees’ association of the Income Tax Department have cautioned the CBDT that non-extension of the March 31 fiscal deadline will lead to a “Himalayan blunder” of jeopardising the health of its staffers in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, even as an IRS officers body said the Board is “proactively pursuing” the issue with the government.

The taxman has to finish a number of tax assessments, time barring cases and payments under the recently-launched ‘Vivad Se Vishwas scheme’ of tax disputes settlement with the ending of the 2019-20 financial year on March 31 but the three associations of the department have expressed their inability in completing these tasks owing to “complete lockdown” in many states and the government directive to practise social distancing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The department has a total of three associations: I-T Employees Federation (ITEF), the I-T Gazetted Officers Association (ITGOA) and the Indian Revenue Service (IRS).

The first two bodies represent about 97 per cent of the departments’ workforce, while officers drawn from the IRS make up the rest in top supervisory positions.

A joint council of action of the ITEF and ITGOA has shot off a letter to the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) on Sunday and the communication reviewed by PTI seeks “closure of I-T offices across the country” till March 31 or a later date as they reasoned that the department was not providing any essential medical emergency service in the wake of the spread of the deadly virus that has claimed thousands of lives globally and affected lakhs of people.

lt has urged the CBDT, which frames policy for the department, that the Union government can be requested to declare the end of FY 2019-20 on June 30 instead of the stipulated March-end deadline.

“It can be suggested that the FY 2020-21 will commence from July 1, 2020. For this an ordinance can be brought which will be welcomed by one and all in the country.

“Tax measures taken by countries across the world to tackle COVID-19 crisis needs to be emulated by the CBDT,” the joint council said.

It said as Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that there is an urgent need for observing social distancing for at least two weeks can alone prevent the country from avoiding a “catastrophe” like the one perpetrated by a coronavirus in many countries.

“It is an open secret that medical facilities in India is far less than these countries vis-a-vis the population and lack of responsiveness would be a Himalayan blunder for which we will not be forgiven,” it said.

The IRS association also issued a statement saying it has urged all tax officials to work from home in view of the social distancing guidelines issued by the government.

“Field officials have raised legitimate concerns about going to office. The I-T Department is proactively pursuing an extension of statutory limitation/time barring dates with the government.

“Till then, DoR (department of revenue under Union finance ministry) instructions based on DoPT’s 22/03 order allows us to do whatever work possible from home, even if ITBA tasks cannot be carried out,” the association of the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officers said.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) had recently directed ministries and departments that junior-rank officials’ manpower of the central government should be rationalised and they should either be allowed to work from home and or in shifts.

The association said local situations must be paramount in determining how and whether tax offices run, even if they are officially not shut.

“Feasibility of commuting of officers/staff, prohibitory orders under section 144, border restrictions between states in areas like NCR, the ability of drivers to come for duty. So, while we wait for orders, let us not panic. Let us take necessary precautions and ensure minimum travel and maintain social distancing,” it said in a statement.

“We must follow Hon’ble PM’s advice and maintain utmost vigil,” it added.

The more vigilant the officials are, the association said, the greater the chances of conquering the extraordinary COVID-19 challenge.

“So work from home as much as you can. Stay safe. Keep others safe and let us overcome this challenge together,” it said.

The joint council said once the timeline is extended, works like filing of certain returns, their processing, completion of set-aside assessments and penalty proceedings, complying with court orders, rectification and appeal effect and payment of taxes under the ‘Vivad Se Vishwas Scheme’ and those under the Benami law can be taken up later.

ITGOA’s general secretary Ravi Shankar said the body will decide their next action in case they do not hear from the CBDT by Monday.

The CBDT and the finance ministry, sources said, are soon expected to announce a decision in this context.

The Mumbai region of the department has also asked the CBDT, which frames policy for the department, to extend the deadline for the ‘Vivad se Vishwas Scheme’ and proceedings to be finalised by March-end under the anti-black money law.