It was a moist and hot evening just two days before India’s 74th Independence Day celebration. Anurag had merely managed to pay his son’s college fee, worth more than 1 lac, by arranging it through one of his relatives. The lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in a steady eradication of his saved money, which is why he was forcefully thrown into a financial crunch. Due to a poor CIBIL score, resulting from the recession of 2008, no bank was willing to provide him with any loans, as he had no repayment capacity. However, the banks under which he had certain loan settlements going on, jolly well instituted proceedings against him to recover that which was, as per their theories, unrecoverable.
He had just returned home after completing his work in the factory (he was the owner of a micro-unit, manufacturing puffed rice) when he heard on the National News Channel about the declaration of a new taxation platform, inaugurated by the Prime Minister at 11 AM that morning through a video conference. Immediately a wave of frustration went through his nerves. He was exhausted by the ruling Government’s alterations. It seemed as if the ruling Government had planned to demolish India and then rebuild it in their own way. That is why they were changing everything. At first, the introduction of AADHAR, then the blundered demonetiSation, then this completely altered National Education Policy and now this. He thought, just for the sake of humour, that maybe tomorrow the Government will rename ‘India’ as well. He besieved that the Government was trying to eliminate everything done by the past Governments. It was trying to claim everything as its own creation, its own policy.
While he had phased out into his imaginary world, momentarily, he heard the Prime Minister delivering his address, in his particular demeanour, about the features of the new taxation policy. He said that the Transparent Taxation Platform was a revolution in the Indian taxation system (every new policy of this Government was a revolution in the Indian system pertaining to that policy). The Prime Minister said, as Anurag was intently listening, that the new policy had minimised the contact of the taxpayers with the Income Tax officials. The reason for doing so is to ensure that the honest taxpayers are not harassed by the tax officials, which happens quite often and also, to make sure that people are not in a position to extract favourable and unjust orders and benefits from the tax officials. In the previous system, the public had to go to the Income Tax offices for getting the formalities and other processes completed. It was at such times when the real monetary games were played between the applicant and the scrutinising official. However, this new transparent system had introduced a completely online platform for filing one’s Income Tax returns and assessments, in a faceless manner. Meaning, that the applicant would be unaware of the identity of the scrutinising officer and the scrutinising officer would be unaware of the identity of the applicant. It would be just like a blind, peer-reviewed journal, where the articles sent by various authors were reviewed by unknown people and were selected or rejected, solely on the basis of the merit of the content.
While Anurag was listening to this, he heard his phone’s message alert. He opened the new message which read that the college had received the fees paid by him. Reverting back to the P.M.’s speech, he heard the P.M. say that the next most important feature of this platform would be a faceless appeal. This, Anurag thought, was something very useful and worth appreciating. He remembered the times when his Income Tax appeals had been rejected or left pending, only because he had had a small argument or disagreement with the scrutinising officer, who was supposed to be treated as a reverend. The P.M. continued that however, this feature of faceless appeal would be available to the common public from the 25th of September, 2020.
The hot water was ready for taking a bath, but he waited till the P.M. concluded his address. The P.M., in his characteristic style of speaking, continued to say that the third most remarkable feature of the new Transparent Taxation Platform was the availability of a Taxpayers’ Charter. This indeed was something new for Anurag. However, his doubts got clarified when the P.M. elaborated that the Taxpayers’ Charter was meant for taxpayers’ education. To educate them about their Rights against the Income Tax officials and also the duties that they owed towards the Department. He wondered that this was indeed a voluntary and a remarkable step towards promoting the Right to Information. There were so many people who were completely unaware of their Rights claimable against and the duties owed towards, the I.T. Department.
This was where the P.M. concluded and said that this new strategy was to incorporate the transactions which normally go unrecorded, such as hotel bills above 20,000 rupees, education fees above 1 lac, and so on. Thunderbolt had struck him instantaneously. A fit of anger and frustration came back in his mind. He had borrowed the money to pay his son’s fees from his relative. Now, if that would forcefully be recorded and he was forced to pay any tax upon the same, then, he would be ruined. If he wasn’t able to pay for his normal expenses on time, then, how would he pay the four to five-digit tax upon his transaction? The P.M. had gone, but, Anurag’s mind was scarred.
He simply opened, just to divert his mind, the Taxpayers’ Charter through internet and read that under it the taxpayers had the Right to Choose their representatives, file complaints regarding any issue and also to seek timely disposal of their matters. However, they were also obligated to maintain accurate records, disclose any necessary and demanded information and pay their taxes on time. By now the wave of vexation had passed and he had become legally sane again. He wondered, with his typical, analytical thought process, that now the job of the Income Tax Officers had simply been reduced to clerical jobs. They were, but, educated clerks who were simply to see whether everything was appropriate or not and rectify the minor errors, as the discretionary power was now provided to the machines through Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, which were now going to be used to complete all the processes. Immediately he thought of the instances where certain people were short of certain documents due to some peculiar reasons. However, the Income Tax Officers couldn’t now exercise their discretionary powers as-
- They were unknown.
- Everything had to be filled through the platform, which was ‘artificial’.
So, now if a genuine taxpayer fell short of any vital document due to any valid reason, he would not have the ease of consulting the scrutinising officer directly. The forms that were supposed to be filled online would not be filled in the absence of any such documents, as the machine would only understand ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Moreover, he remembered his sisters-in-law. Although they were very rich and well-to-do, still they had zero computer awareness whatsoever. Thus, they and other computer ‘unaware’ people like them still had to depend upon agents and C.A.s for getting the simplest of the tasks completed, which would again mean aggravated corruption in the name of a novel policy. He remembered that although the policy may have been made after copying from the Western countries (as the Government usually did), still India was not ready for such a change. A place where people still believed in the Ministers being kings rather than their servants elected by them, operating P.C.s amongst the rural folks to be a sign of ingenious, completely revamping the taxation system was nothing more than another step by the Government to claim that it had reformed India.
For a middle class, micro unit owner like him, who had a poor CIBIL score, this new system seemed to be another step to degrade his financial status, he felt. However, how far it may succeed, that was a question to be answered by time. One thing that he was sure about was that in the future he may not be able to ask his relatives for help, as all the transactions had to be recorded. If not, then he would become a tax evader. The Government had definitely created an ugly middle position for Anurag. Moreover, the last morsel of privacy had been robbed, as whatever was being bought or spent, had to be accounted for, in the name of digitalisation.
It was almost 8:30 P.M. and he was already fatigued by the ‘laborious’ jobs that he had to do in his factory. He simply tossed the phone over the side-table and went to take a shower, trying to forget about his thoughtless, yet enthusiastic representatives.
One thing was quite clear to Anurag. This taxation policy was going to squeeze out even the last penny left with him for mere survival. Because, he will have to file his return and in the same, he will have to mention this ‘help’ extended to him by his relative and also, disclose the relative’s details. Now, this was a two-faced sword. Firstly, he would have to pay the tax upon this transaction, which was next to impossible for him, and secondly, the relative would from now on restrain himself from helping him as he will feel that it may lead to unnecessary complications. Hence, the story ends but Anurag’s plight continues………
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