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Big blow to Service Tax Department as Mumbai CESTAT remands major case for fresh adjudication!

Abhishek Raja , Last updated: 15 July 2023  
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The legality of the order made by the Commissioner of Service Tax, Mumbai-VII is under scrutiny in this appeal. The order confirmed the service tax duty demand, interest, and penalties under Sections 73, 75, 76, 77 & 78 of the Finance Act, 1994, for the period 2010-2014, based on a mismatch between Service Tax returns and financial statements of the Appellant company.

The Appellant company, engaged in infrastructure and construction projects, alleges short payment of Service Tax amounting to Rs.14,52,71,013/-, and an additional demand of Rs.44,30,08,042/-, as highlighted in two separate show-cause notices issued in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

During the hearing, additional pieces of documentary evidence obtained via RTI applications were admitted. The appellant's counsel, argued that the Commissioner ignored the reconciliation data submitted by the Appellant, an internal audit report, and the CBIC Circular/Instruction No. 137/472020-ST dated 01.04.2021 and 23.04.2021, as well as instruction dated 26.10.2021. He contended the Commissioner acted in disregard of these documents, leading to the unfair denial of the Appellant's rights.

Big blow to Service Tax Department as Mumbai CESTAT remands major case for fresh adjudication

In response, the representative for the Respondent-Department, supported the Commissioner's order but conceded that the internal audit reports were not apparently considered in the decision-making process.

Upon examination of the record and submissions, the court found that the Commissioner neither considered the internal audit reports nor gave the Appellant an opportunity to examine these reports. The court noted that the Commissioner's action seemed to favour the Appellant's stand but failed to consider the substance of the internal report.

Finally, the court allowed the appeal, setting aside the Commissioner's order and remanding the case for de novo adjudication, considering the additional documentary evidence and such further inquiry as the Commissioner may find appropriate. The Commissioner was directed to complete the adjudication process within four months, and the Appellant was instructed to participate in the proceeding upon notice.

 

My View on this

This case brings to light critical elements of administrative law and tax jurisprudence. First, it underscores the indispensable role of natural justice in tax proceedings. It is evident that the judiciary doesn't favor a unilateral approach in decision-making, emphasizing the taxpayer's right to defend their case.

The court's ruling also illuminates the significance of complying with procedural requirements, such as the consideration of relevant documents and internal audit reports. This decision serves as a reminder to tax authorities to judiciously use their powers and adhere to their own guidelines, as laid out by the CBIC Circular/Instruction in this instance.

Moreover, the relevance of transparency in proceedings is underscored with the acknowledgment of RTI-obtained evidence. This demonstrates the role of RTI in aiding procedural fairness in tax disputes.

 

Finally, the case raises questions about the efficiency of tax audit systems. Not only did the case tie up the company and tax authorities for over a decade, but the final resolution will also require a time-consuming de novo adjudication. This calls for a reevaluation of audit practices and dispute resolution mechanisms to avoid such extensive legal proceedings in the future.

In conclusion, this case highlights the need for due process, transparency, and adherence to procedural requirements in tax disputes. It is a reminder that tax law, like all areas of law, is subject to the principles of fairness and justice.

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Published by

Abhishek Raja
(Practising CA)
Category Service Tax   Report

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