Sunday, January 11, 2009

Stop collecting disputed tax demand

It is an open secret that the government fixes revenue collection targets for its tax officials. The targets are often based on the collections made in the earlier year without any regard to the estimated actual profits to be currently made by the businessmen and industrialists.

The tax officers are so obsessed with their targets that they do not hesitate to take coercive measures to collect more and more amount from the assessees. It will be wrong to blame the officers because their promotion, placement, transfer etc. is shown to be dependent upon the collection of taxes under their charge.

A situation often arises when the income-tax department raises a demand of tax from a foreign enterprise but the foreign enterprise does not agree with the department and decides to contest the case before higher authorities. In such a situation, the option is either to pay the disputed demand or obtain a stay till appellate proceedings are over.

The above situation, which on the surface, appears to be simple and logical, in fact, gets highly complicated when applied in practical parlance. In India, completion of tax assessments, including appellate proceedings, usually takes 3 to 5 years up to the tribunal stage and another 10 to 15 years if the matter goes to high court and Supreme Court.

If the foreign company pays the disputed demand, then, upon success in appellate proceedings, it will get a refund along with interest. But, in the process, the foreign company will remain involved in litigation in India in all these years. This creates practical difficulties, particularly in those cases where the foreign company goes back from India after completing its work here. There is, therefore, no dearth of cases when the refunds due to foreign companies remain unclaimed.

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