A lot of emphasis is placed on the fact that the mistake was committed by the assessee himself which has resulted in the error creeping in the assessment order as well. Instead of being apologetic about the complete non application of mind to the facts and making a mockery of the scrutiny assessment proceeding itself, the Assessing Officer has justified the mistake on record on the ground that it is attributed to the assessee. The income tax proceedings are not adversarial proceedings. As to who is responsible for the mistake is not material for the purpose of proceedings under section 154; what is material is that there is a mistake- a mistake which is clear, glaring and which is incapable of two views being taken. The fact that mistake has occurred is beyond doubt. The fact that it is attributed to the error of the assessee does not obliterate the fact of mistake or legal remedies for a mistake having crept in. It is only elementary that the income liable to be taxed has to be worked out in accordance with the law as in force. In this process, it is not open to the Revenue authorities to take advantage of mistakes committed by the assessee. Tax cannot be levied on an assessee at a higher amount or at a higher rate merely because the assessee, under a mistaken belief or due to an error, offered the income for taxation at that amount or that rate. It can only be levied when it is authorised by the law, as is the mandate of Art. 265 of the Constitution of India. A sense of fairplay by the field officers towards the taxpayers is not an act of benevolence by the field officers but it is call of duty in a socially accountable governance
Hon’ble Justice A. B. Chaudhari of the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court has passed severe strictures against the Government for turning a blind eye to the rampant corruption in the Country. The learned Judge lamented that “It shocks one and all as to the manner in which the taxpayers’ money is being swindled, misappropriated and robbed by such unscrupulous holders of posts”.
He also pointed that corruption has become the order of the day over the past few decades and that taxpayers are helpless victims of the sordid state of affairs.
“Does the taxpayers pay the money to the Government for such kind of acrobatics being played” Justice Chaudhari asked in a rhetorical manner.
He also lamented that ethics and morals have taken a back seat in modern India’s scheme of things. He opined that to eradicate the “hydra headed monster” of corruption, citizens have to come together to tell their Governments that they have had enough. He also recommended that taxpayers’ may have to resort to refuse to pay taxes by a “non-cooperation movement“.
The learned Judge also found fault with the attitude of the employees’ unions who are otherwise very vigilant about their rights. He expressed surprise that the Unions do not “condemn, outcast or demonstrate against their counterpart bureaucracy indulging in corruption” and on the contrary support their misdeeds.
Today the issue thus is not only of award of compensation but who should bear the brunt. The concept of authority and power exercised by public functionaries has many dimensions. It has undergone tremendous change with passage of time and change in socioeconomic outlook. The authority empowered to function under a statute while exercising power discharges public duty. It has to act to subserve general welfare and common good. In discharging this duty honestly and bona fide, loss may accrue to any person. And he may claim compensation which may in circumstances be payable. But where the duty is performed capriciously or the exercise of power results in harassment and agony then the responsibility to pay the loss determined should be whose? In a modem society no authority can arrogate to itself the power to act in a manner which is arbitrary. It is unfortunate that matters which require immediate attention linger on and the man in the street is made to run from one end to other with no result. The culture of window clearance appears to be totally dead. Even in ordinary matters a common man who has neither the political backing nor the financial strength to match the inaction in public oriented departments gets frustrated and it erodes the credibility in the system. Public administration, no doubt involves a vast amount of administrative discretion which shields the action of administrative authority. But where it is found that exercise of discretion was mala fide and the complainant is entitled to compensation for mental and physical harassment then the officer can no more claim to be under protective cover. When a citizen seeks to recover compensation from a public authority in respect of injuries suffered by him for capricious exercise of power and the National Commission finds it duly proved then it has a statutory obligation to award the same. It was never more necessary than today when even social obligations are regulated by grant of statutory powers. The test of permissive form of grant is over. It is now imperative and implicit in the exercise of power that it should be for the sake of society. When the court directs payment of damages or compensation against the State the ultimate sufferer is the common man. It is the tax payers’ money which is paid for inaction of those who are entrusted under the Act to discharge their duties in accordance with law. It is, therefore, necessary that the Commission when it is satisfied that a complainant is entitled to compensation for harassment or mental agony or oppression, which finding of course should be recorded carefully on material and convincing circumstances and not lightly, then it should further direct the department concerned to pay the amount to the complainant from the public fund immediately but to recover the same from those who are found responsible for such unpardonable behaviour by dividing it proportionately where there are more than one functionaries
||Delhi High Court
||S. Muralidhar J, Vibhu Bakhru J
||October 12, 2015 (Date of pronouncement)
||November 5, 2015 (Date of publication)
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S. 147/ 148: Dept warned not to harass taxpayers by reopening assessments in a mechanical and casual manner. Pr CIT directed to issue instructions to AOs to strictly adhere to the law explained in various decisions and make it mandatory for them to ensure that an order for reopening of an assessment clearly records compliance with each of the legal requirements. AOs also directed to strictly comply with the law laid down in GKN Driveshafts 259 ITR 19 (SC) as regards disposal of objections to reopening assessment
The Court is of the view that notwithstanding several decisions of the Supreme Court as well as this Court clearly enunciating the legal position under Section 147/148 of the Act, the reopening of assessment in cases like the one on hand give the impression that reopening of assessment is being done mechanically and casually resulting in unnecessary harassment of the Assessee
The Income Tax authorities shall follow the directions given by the Delhi High Court in case of Court On Its Own Motion v. Commissioner of Income-tax 352 ITR 273 in other cities, including the city of Mumbai, in Maharashtra State. We hope and trust that the Income Tax Department will be more vigilant and ensure that such mistakes will not occur in future. We also direct the Income Tax Department to form a Vigilance Cell to ensure that there is a monitoring authority, which would monitor various policy decisions which are taken and a self auditing mechanism is required to be formulated to ensure that the income tax assessees are not made to run from pillar to post for the purpose of redressal of their grievances
We are now putting the Officers of the Revenue to notice, that in all cases including where appeals are filed, the Offices instructing the Counsel would review whether the appeal should at all be pressed in view of the Revenue having accepted the jurisdictional High Court’s order on an identical issue and take necessary instructions from the Commissioner of Income Tax to withdraw and/or not press the appeal. Alternatively, in case a conscious decision is taken to press the appeal, then an averment to the effect that either the case is distinguishable or an appeal has been preferred from the decision of this Court to the Apex Court if not averred in the appeal memo, then a further affidavit in support be filed indicating the reasons. In the absence of the above, we will be compelled to impose heavy/exemplary costs to be personally personally paid by the jurisdictional – Commissioner of Income Tax under whose jurisdiction, the appeal is being filed and pressed in spite of the issue being settled by this Court and the same having been accepted by the Revenue
The Income tax Appellate Tribunal, being a part of Government of India, should not shut its eyes when it is noticed that certain developments occurring in the Country may affect the Country as a whole, more particularly when the reputation of particular profession, from whom the Tribunal is getting assistance in the dispensation of justice, is at stake. Accordingly, we sincerely believe that it is the bounden duty of not only the Tribunal, but also the duty of one and all to point out and discuss about such kind of developments, when it is noticed that the same may affect the public at large. There cannot be any controversy that the interest of our Country is Supreme and no citizen can or should compromise on the same
We are pained to address the serious damage done by this deliberate, mischievous and selective reference to facts by such responsible persons which grievously damages the public faith and belief in the honest fair play of the tax administration. The conscious and selective reference to facts demonstrates that at the very stage of filing of the appeal its fate and conclusion was known for which specific purpose the facts were attempted to be obfuscated. The filing of present appeal with complete knowledge of its fate by the Revenue only reflects the mischievous adamancy to attempt to mislead the Tribunal and waste the time of the Court and the officers concerned
This is the most distressing part. The president forwarded the letter of the Board to the Vice president for his comments. This was purely an internal movement of the file. It was not that the matter was judicially assigned to the Vice president and notified on his board. There was no indication for any litigant to know that the file was now before the Vice president. In spite of this position, the Special counsel who was to be engaged by the Revenue met the Vice president and explained him the need for a special bench. How the Special counsel knew that the file of the matter was before the Vice president, is a mystery. This was a private meeting and the Petitioner was not informed. The matter was seized before the regular bench and the revenue was a contesting party. The Petitioner was completely unaware that any such private meeting had taken place between the counsel and the Vice president. Permitting a party to the litigation to meet privately in absence of other side in respect of an ongoing litigation and then base an opinion on such meeting ,was most improper on the part of the Vice president. The Vice president did not even find it improper and he has proceeded to place the said private meeting on record as if nothing was wrong about the same. Not only holding such private meetings is opposed to judicial conduct, but not knowing that it is an improper judicial conduct, makes the matters worse
The Tribunal should not completely disregard its earlier order without some reason. This is the minimum expected of any quasi judicial / judicial authority. If the Tribunal has failed to perform it’s basic judicial functions in such arbitrary manner, the approach of the Tribunal must be corrected, so as to ensure that such lapses do not occur again