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The Rediff Interview/Urvashi Saxena, Chief IT Commissioner, Mumbai
September 28, 2004
Urvashi Saxena is the first woman to be appointed chief income tax commissioner in Mumbai.
Mumbai, the financial capital of the country, provides the biggest slice of the national income tax pie, making Saxena's position highly influential and powerful. But the demure lady carries her authority with grace and modesty.
Contributing Special Correspondent A Ganesh Nadar caught up with her recently during the midst of her busy schedule for an exclusive interview.
When it comes to paying taxes, the salaried class is forced to be honest, while doctors, lawyers and other professionals pay little tax.
Here the role of auditors is very important. They must create awareness among their clients. We are also planning to make the (income tax) net wider and deeper so as to widen the tax base and get more people to pay tax.
What is the IT department doing to make the taxpayer's life easy?
In the first place, procedure is being made easier so that the common man can understand it. Saral (the IT form) is just two pages and very easy to grasp. We have lots of books to explain things to taxpayers. Most of these books are for free, some others are available at nominal charges. We also conduct seminars to educate the taxpayer.
What would you suggest to improve the IT collection by the IT department?
For collection, I emphasise on voluntary compliance. They (the taxpayers) must realise that they have to pay their taxes. They pay and sleep in peace. Our tax rates are very reasonable. Auditors and their joint bodies also play a major role.
Would it not be simpler to abolish tax returns for the salaried class and make it TDS?
This has been discussed and we have decided that filing returns is the right way to do it.
Many people believe that the income tax department lives in a by gone era. Are there any plans to computerise in this department?
Yes! We are definitely into computerisation. Our (IT) returns, most of them are on the computer.
In the future, IT refunds will be credited directly to your bank account.
Do you think that the IT department needs reforms?
Reform is an ongoing process. Nobody can say we have reached the pinnacle. There is scope for improvement everywhere. We are committed to that.
Corporates have time and again aired their grievance over the 'raids' conducted by the IT dept. How would you pacify this section of society?
The frequency of raids has come down. We do our homework thoroughly. We go after the genuine offenders. We try to make it as non-invasive as possible.
Why do you refuse to disclose the names of regular offenders, big time industrialists?
We used to disclose names earlier, but now it is government policy not to do so. I have to follow that.
You have said that the IT department officials should collect taxes like a bee collects honey without disturbing the flower. Could you elaborate?
(Laughs) That is not my quote. I was quoting Kautilya (Chanakya) in Arthshastra. We must collect taxes without upsetting the taxpayer. That was what I meant. Just as the flower is not disturbed or hurt by the bee, we should not disturb the taxpayer.
Are tax collections on track?
So far we are doing well, but it is a stiff target
Are you happy with the liberal tax regime?
Yes, very much. It has led to more voluntary compliance.
Are the Kelkar Committee tax recommendations people-friendly?
Certainly. The Kelkar report simplifies many things. So it is people-friendly.
Have you studied the tax laws of the developed countries and how do we compare?
I have not studied that in depth, but from what I have read, our tax structure compares very favourably with that in developed nations.
Why do I-T appeals take so long to clear?
We don't have any control beyond the first stage. We can request for a early hearing. After that it goes to the appellate tribunal. We have no control on that. Then it goes to the high court and the Supreme Court.
Is it true that the amount collected in the form of personal income tax is so low that it does not even pay the salaries of that department?
That is a myth. It is not true. We are collecting much more than our salaries. The cost of collecting Rs 1,000 in tax is only Rs 1.48. It is a misconception.
Do you encounter political interference in your work?
Not at this level.
Film stars seem to be regular I-T offenders. Have you met any of them?
Yes! I have met a few. They come here as an assessee. I cannot tell you their names.
How difficult is it to be honest?
It is not difficult at all.
Is there anything you would like to tell the people?
I would like people to pay their taxes -- truly, faithfully and on time.
Photograph: Jewella C Miranda
Image: Rahil Shaikh