By R Manimohan
FROM the signals emanating from the system, it appears that the CBEC has to start preparing for the GST regime, to be more specific, might be the CGST (Central GST) regime.
Many suggestions have been aired regarding the steps to be adopted for the said launch. However, the necessity to overhaul the tax administration and its delivery machinery requires some attention at this momentous juncture.
Tax administration constitutes of four major elements, viz., data collection, analysis of data and intelligence gathering, investigations and adjudication and appeals.
As on date the work force deployment for the above four types of distinctively separate activities have been all jumbled up and done as if for a single unit. As a result all fields are dominated only by Executive officers. Let us examine them separately:
For collection of data, it is required that personnel with knowledge of using the computer accessories for data collection, collation and creation of data base are more in requirement. Instead the department as on date has been deploying Executive officers for extracting and verifying data from the sources provided by the assesses, which on one hand cannot produce the desired results in terms of data management and the complaints of executive over reach could be heard repeatedly. The Executive officers who are primarily revenue officials need not be deployed for these activities. It is also a more costly affair because of the higher salary of the Executive Officers when compared to the personnel whose basic work is to collect and collate data using electronic methods.
Unlike the present ACES, a proper system has to be put in place for the above purpose. Further, it will be better to do away with the necessity to scrutinize the returns of the assesses by Revenue Officials, in the light of the avowed policy to grant the assessee freedom to declare and face the consequences if the declarations are wrong.
It also requires to be set as a pre-condition for such a freedom for the assessee community that, invoice based e-filing should be made mandatory and thus misuse of CENVAT Credit could be curbed by electronic methods.
The department can conduct periodical audits on the assessees as is mandated for which Executive officials could be used. Thus, the question of harassment at the cutting edge level would be avoided.
The above methods will see that lesser of Executive officials are deployed and the salary outgo would be reduced and data management would be more effective.
The machinery for intelligence gathering should be lean and electronically assisted. They should be engaged only to collect data, study them, collect intelligence and file them to the appropriate agencies for further investigations. A proper combination of officials with knowledge of computer applications in order to analyse the data and Executive Officials who can derive intelligence from the same as well as from other sources would be required in these formations.
The practice of the intelligence agencies themselves conducting investigations could be avoided because the necessity to conduct investigations on all intelligence that is filed will put a cap on the flow of intelligence.
The investigation agencies are as on date functioning at multiple layers and therefore very many times at cross purposes. As on date, cases could be booked by a Range Officer, the Divisional Preventive Unit, the Head quarters Preventive Unit in matters of Central Excise and Service Tax and by the Directorate of Central Excise Intelligence in the matter of Central Excise and Service Tax cases or by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence in the case of Customs cases. This multi-layer mechanism of intelligence gathering and investigations obviously creates irritation in the trade. Hence all investigations could be entrusted to a separate directorate namely Directorate of GST Investigations. Here, more of the Executive Officers should be deployed.
ADJUDICATION AND APPEALS :
The quasi-judicial functions like adjudication and disposal of departmental appeals is another area where currently a lot of Executive officials are deployed with high salaries, for what could be done by stenographers. Other than the revenue wastage on that count, it also leads to pro-revenue orders being prepared at these stages due to which the assesses become disenchanted with the judiciousness of the mechanism to deliver justice. Neutrality could be brought into these proceedings if more number of higher level officials are posted in these areas, with proper ministerial and secretarial assistance. Executive Officers are required in these areas only to project the side of the Revenue during the proceedings, as is currently done in the CESTAT and nothing more.
Instead of requiring the entire machinery to be assessee friendly, instead of citizen friendly, if the above steps are taken, justice would have been done not only to the assessees but also to revenue and the citizens of the country.
(The author is a serving officer & the opinion expressed above is purely personal.)