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FinMin arms fight over tax refunds

Last updated on: May 30, 2011 09:23 IST

FinMin arms fight over tax refunds

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Santosh Tiwari & Vrishti Beniwal in New Delhi

The finance ministry is facing an internal conflict over income tax refunds.

The Income-Tax Department has turned down a proposal by the Department of Economic Affairs to go slow on refunds to taxpayers.

The matter has escalated and reached Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

DEA has asked the Central Board of Direct Taxes to go slow on tax refunds in the coming months so that the government does not face any resource crunch.

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Image: Pranab Mukherjee.
Photographs: Reuters
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FinMin arms fight over tax refunds

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CBDT has rejected Revenue Secretary Sunil Mitra's contention by saying that taxpayer money can't be withheld.

This has alarmed DEA, which is expected to be hard-pressed for funds given the possibility of slower economic growth and an increase in the subsidy bill.

The finance minister is believed to have asked the two to resolve the issue between themselves.

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FinMin arms fight over tax refunds

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A senior CBDT official said once a refund was determined, especially in e-filing, no one could withhold it.

"Can the government say that refunds will be delayed because it is under financial stress? Will the government allow an assessee to withhold tax because he is facing a financial problem?" asked the official.

DEA's argument that a higher refund outgo will put pressure on the government to borrow more is rejected by experts and expenditure department officials.

They say it's a short-term trend and will not impact government finances over the year.

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FinMin arms fight over tax refunds

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The government has said it will borrow Rs 2,50,000 crore (Rs 2,500 billion) between April and September, 60 per cent of the budgeted market borrowing of Rs 4,17,000 crore (Rs 4,170 billion) for 2011-12.

So far, it has borrowed Rs 72,000 crore (Rs 720 billion).

While the finance ministry pays 6 per cent a year on late refunds, it has been borrowing from the market at 7.03-8.30 per cent.

The tax department refunded over Rs 23,000 crore (Rs 230 billion) in April.

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FinMin arms fight over tax refunds

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The figure is expected to cross Rs 1 lakh crore (Rs 1 trillion) for the year.

The department had refunded Rs 57,000 crore (Rs 570 billion) in 2009-10 and Rs 74,000 crore (Rs 740 billion) in 2010-11.

CBDT official say with a significant amount paid in the first month of the financial year, the burden for the coming months will be substantially lower.

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FinMin arms fight over tax refunds

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They say timely payments help save on interest.

The government's net direct tax collection in April fell 70 per cent to Rs 4,000 crore (Rs 40 billion), compared with Rs 14,000 crore (Rs 140 billion) in the same month last year.

This was mainly on account of refunds totaling Rs 25,000 crore (Rs 250 billion).

Gross direct tax collections were Rs 29,000 crore (Rs 290 billion), 15 per cent more than in April last year.



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