TRYST WITH THE DEPARTMENT – BLOOD (PRESSURE) RAISING ROUTINE
It is not very rarely that we see our brothers and sisters in legal or medical professions go on some kind of an agitational mode to express their displeasure against certain policy decisions of the powers-that-be or against some specific happening or non-happening. Lawyers do come to streets to vociferously voice their full-throated protests on certain occasions and also boycott courts. Doctors working in State hospitals also strike work for reasons they consider genuine. They do resort to such things realizing fully well that the people who suffer because of their agitations viz., litigants and patients are in no way responsible for their perceived woes. Still they do so because they know that the Government can be pressurized by the sufferings of their hapless ‘strike’ victims.
However, the profession to which we belong viz., the practicing CAs do not have the privilege of expressing our displeasure or dismay in any form, even though time and again, the profession is slighted and belittled in various ways. When bank audit opportunities are curtailed, when service tax is slapped in a discriminatory manner, when a para tax-practice system (TRP) is announced, when attempts are made to stifle the functioning of the Institute is made etc. etc. – all that we could do was to fret and fume before picking up the shattered pieces of our pride to go and beg for mercy. Occassionally we have been ‘alm’ed but invariably we have been booted. Never ever we have even got into an agitational mood, let alone agitational mode. To the outside world, we show that our demeanour is born out of the ethical high-posture that is synonymous with the high values attached to the profession. But, we know in our hearts, that we cannot fight for anything because we are bereft of any form of fighting. Lawyers have courts to boycott and the doctors have the hospitals to stay away from. What can a CA in practice do? Not go to the various wings of the revenue departments? Refuse to file the tax audit reports? Not to attend to clients’ work? Can we afford to do anything of this sort?
Majority of our brethren are in Income tax practice. Let us assume that we shun the department for a few days by avoiding the scheduled hearings of our clients. Can the clients pose any hapless image like the litigants in Courts of justice or the patients in the hospitals to get the Government swing in to action to look at the grievances of the protesters? No way. The Department would hardly care. Even rejoice. And the clients (read assessees) would be even more troubled than they will be with us representing them. The Act provides for powers to do an assessment, completely presumptuously. In fact, the Income Tax law has now been made worse than IPC. In the latter, an accused is presumed innocent unless the State proves him guilty. In Income tax, an assessee is presumed guilty unless he proves himself innocent. I do not know whether this could be the case even in the most tyrannical State in the world. (Any way, this could be a separate write-up by itself which perhaps we will see later).
I am making this statement that the Department would indeed rejoice if the representatives stop defending their ‘victims’ consciously as I have personal experiences and have also heard from many colleagues about their exasperating brushes with the department. Yes, with all the tall talk (forever) about the bonhomie and bhai-bhai relationship between the CA clan and the Income Tax department, there are myriad gloomy tales born out of frustrating experiences of the representatives. From a mere ‘getting a refund of a few thousands of rupees’ to getting a genuine appeal allowed, the travails suffered by the tax representatives are too horrendous to narrate. It appears that most of us suffer silently most of the time, because if we let our emotions run riot (rightly, though), then we can be certain that the assessees we represent would be in a more rotten soup than even the most contemptuous mind in the department can otherwise place them.
Hence, invariably, we let our pride take the back seat. For example, when an officer slapped a huge demand on an assessee, ignoring the credits under TDS certificates under the pretext that they were defective in his perception, it was politely pointed out to him that under Sec. 205, there is a bar on direct demand on the assessee, where there is tax deductible. Instead of appreciating the point that was made, he only was getting annoyed at my ‘uncalled for’ intrusion in the process of law!
True, the administration of the tax department has its own pressure points and problems, but it can hardly give any rhyme or reason for the department officials to assume a larger than life proportion and feel that just because they are (only) in a position to harass and trouble the hapless assesses and their representatives, they are superior mortals. It has almost become a norm with the department that an officer’s efficiency is only gauged by how well he arm-twists the assessees and the representatives. Some of them keep a straight face and say that they would make additions, no matter how well the case is presented or argued because of possible audit queries and vigilance actions. That they are able to put an ‘audit’ veil to their repulsive minds, aided by the malevolent designs of the higher authorities is so very obvious that themselves feel that it is indeed a wry comedy to claim that the department is tax-payer friendly.
Men of higher ‘steel’ find themselves in the investigation and post-investigation wings and many who get such coveted positions feel that they have been chosen to do what is called “Oozhi thandavam” (devil dancing). To them, all of their assessees are crooks, without an exception. You will have to believe that an officer prided on his intelligence so much when he claimed to have ‘found out’ that what was shown as agricultural income some 6 years back was indeed not so. He had visited the village, had done some land survey, claimed to have spoken to the villagers and some self-appointed village chief, done some research in agriculture and came up with the brilliant finding that in as much as the land was slopy, the crop claimed to have been cultivated could not have been grown there - as it was one which needed stagnant water etc. His order read like a thriller novel but the climax was written by someone else as he was transferred to a place which was 2000 kms away, as the peeved assessee showed that he could do ‘harvest’ whether he could cultivate or not!
We cannot completely rule out the ‘participative functioning’ in such murky affairs by some stray members of our fraternity, who double up as ‘wheeler-dealers’ and who are also found ‘comfortable’ by many officials. There have been cases where the department officials have secretly called the assessees and advised them to dump their existing ‘auditors’ and to approach one of those in their ‘unofficial panel’!
Well, to be fair to the officialdom, it has to be acknowledged that there are some officers who are indeed upright, honest and sincere to their calling and even sympathetic enough not to cause undue trouble and go about doing their job as long as they do not become prisoners of circumstances. Almost every officer has at least one additional charge which means additional load in terms of work, additional responsibility in terms of reporting requirements and additional trouble in terms of non co-operative staff. Those who took to the Government service propelled by myriad reasons are seeing today that people of lesser caliber than them are better placed in life. This naturally results in frustration and consequent corruption of mind. Added to this is the constant pressure from the top for results in terms of additions in assessments, reports of various kinds, collections with unreasonable targets etc. As if these are not enough, there are these CAG audit teams who seem to have taken special training in trouble-making and would always be bordering on absurdity, impracticality and unreasonableness – in their carefully crafted ‘audit objections’ - which the officials have to answer and be accountable for. If any officer can escape from this frying pan by trying to be brave, he will only fall in to the ‘vigilance’ fire. And there is an ever dangling Damocles’ sword “transfer” – which the top brass can wield at the most inconvenient time.
So, the cycle of trouble-making goes on. The logic therefore is: If I am troubled by someone I cannot trouble back, I will trouble someone who cannot trouble me back. So, it is that the assessees and their representatives at the final receiving end at all times- in fact, the representatives more than the assessees, who blame their ‘auditors’ for not handling the case ‘properly’. Braving all these, if the large clan of IT representatives are still getting deluged in their daily blood pressure raising routine of visiting the department and ‘representing’ their assessees, with their ludicrous smiles camouflaging their inner frustrations, it is because there is little choice otherwise.