97% of the Income Tax workforce feels left out due to restructuring for faceless assessment
Promoting a transparent and fair tax regime, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 13th August, 2020 unveiled ‘taxpayers’ charter’ on Thursday, enshrining rights of assesses in a statute under the Income tax law. With the launch of ‘Transparent Taxation — Honoring the Honest’ platform, Modi also unveiled faceless appeal and expanded the scope of faceless assessment, eliminating physical interface between taxpayers and tax authority.
This was aimed at moving to faceless scrutiny and elimination of human interface in assessment proceedings. The scheme was set to bring in a “paradigm shift” in taxation by eliminating human interface in the income tax assessment system.
Faceless assessment facility was extended to the entire country on 13th August, 2020, ending territorial jurisdiction and individual discretion, where an officer was the whole and sole to the assessee. Scrutiny will be allotted on a random basis. Assessment of a taxpayer in Delhi could well be carried by an officer sitting in Pune.
CBDT undergoing significant restructuring for faceless assessment
The income tax department is undergoing a complete restructuring exercise with regional e-assessment centres (ReAC) set up across 20 cities, apart from the national centre in Delhi. Some 4,224 officers have been diverted to the faceless assessment unit, leaving about 2,000 officers in the residual jurisdiction, which will no longer carry out any assessment exercise.
Detailed guidelines have been issued on reallocation of roles and functions to do away with physical interface between the taxpayer and the tax authorities.
All the faceless assessment functions will be through electronic means, for which the national e-assessment centre (NeAC) will be the getaway for all the flow of information. The officers and staff in the ReACs will perform the functions relating to the assessment and verification function under the Income Tax Act, but all communications from the department to the taxpayer will be in the name of the NeAC.
The remaining 2,000 officers outside the NeAC and ReAC hierarchy will perform functions other than assessment, such as taxpayer outreach and taxpayer education, taxpayer facilitation, grievance handling, collection and recovery of taxes and audit functions.
They will also be responsible for judicial functions like giving effect to appellate orders of commissioner appeals, ITAT, High Court Supreme Court, Settlement Commission, etc.
What was supposed to be a significant upgrade in the current manual process of assessment, was met with negative fallout from Income Tax employees?
The employee associations of the Income Tax Department have said that the restructuring carried out in the Department to implement the Faceless Assessment Scheme is making 97% of the workforce feeling left out.
The Joint Council of Action (JCA) comprising Income Tax Employees Federation and Income Tax Gazette Officers Association have written to the Chairman, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) seeking to highlight the disruption to the employees caused by restructuring of the department. The JCA are of the opinion that:-
- If the department had taken the JCA into confidence before bringing the said announcements pertaining to Faceless Assessment, the feeling of being left out would not have existed.
- Any ill-conceived diversion of posts may lead to departure of posts and thereafter displacement of employees and their families.
- However, JCA is also certain that the CBDT, would ensure that no employee are made redundant in the process, and existing vacancies would be filled up with due promotions and recruitment as the same was being done in the past
- If the restructuring exercise is not implemented in a thoughtful manner, then it may result in massive displacement of manpower from one station to the other.
- Any large scale diversion of posts and consequent transfers of promotee officers and officials among different states under the jurisdiction of one Principal Chief Commissioner of Income Tax charge, may result in complex problems including children’s education, unmanageable operational difficulties in the residual charges, the employees pointed out.
Suggestions for restructuring were also asked
It was also pointed out that the circular for restructuring was received on August 14 and suggestions have been asked for by August 17 when there was a national holiday and Sunday in the intervening period.
Moreover, the suggestions were not discussed either with the local or central JCA, who were the major stakeholders.
They had asked the CBDT Chairman to direct all Principal Chief Commissioners to take into confidence the local JCA before they took any decision on the diversion of posts to the newly created NeAC and ReAC charges in their respective regions.
They have also sought an urgent meeting between the CBDT and JCA to discuss these changes and they now hope that they can be resolved so that any extreme step won’t be required to be taken.