Know your rights when summoned by GST officials
As time passes, the complexity of GST has only grown and the aggressiveness of tax authorities to recover tax from taxpayers. Recently, several businesses, their employees, and senior management personnel are receiving summonses for a particular subject. In the context of GST law, Section 70(1) of the CGST Act, 2017 empowers GST officers to call anyone for a hearing when it is required to investigate to make statements or provide any other documents. Therefore, the persons summoned by GST officers are obliged to be present before officers. However, it is essential to note that the summons and the information that is subsequently gathered is the first step in pursuing proceedings in accordance with GST law. This is why it is essential for taxpayers to be aware of how to handle these summonses and know their legal rights and obligations.
Know your officers
The taxpayers must be aware of whether the officer who issued the summons is authorized or not, according to the GST law. Audit wing officers are not allowed to issue summonses. However, DGGI has been granted broad powers under the terms of the all India Jurisdiction to use this power. Therefore, the summons issued by officers who are not authorized under the law could be challenged by taxpayers.
Duties of Taxpayer
Summons are the same as “judicial proceedings” as per the Indian Penal Code. Thus, taxpayers need to be careful when dealing with tax officials. During the summons proceedings, GST officers may call upon the documents and record statements of the company’s employees/directors/key managerial persons.
In the first place, before making any declarations or providing any documents, taxpayers must be aware of the implications of these statements. In contrast to police officers, statements made to GST officers can be used in evidence against the taxpayer. The question is no longer in res Integra because this situation was analysed in the Supreme Court in the case of the customs officers. It was ruled that customs officers do not count as police officers, even though they can exercise specific authority, so any statements made in front of customs officers can be used as evidence.
The issue was also raised under GST law in an appeal to the Telangana High Court wherein it was ruled the GST officials aren’t police in the sense of the Indian Evidence Act. Thus any statements made in front of them could be considered to have evidence. So, taxpayers have to be aware when making any statement before GST officers, as they may be used as the basis for issuing notices or taking punitive actions.
It is also crucial that taxpayers provide their answers in the most honest way and to the fullest they can. Making false statements is an infraction according to the Indian Penal Code. Therefore, in order to avoid any occurrences, it would be best in the interests of taxpayers to supply all the required information and responses to tax officials in a timely manner without any intentional suppression at their own.
After discussing the responsibilities when summons proceedings are initiated, taxpayers must know their rights that will safeguard their interest throughout the various phases of the actions.
Rights Available to Taxpayer
The majority of the time, it has been observed that the department can cause unjust harassment to genuine taxpayers. Thus, it is of the utmost importance for taxpayers to understand their legal rights, which are available to them to protect themselves from unilateral action by Tax authorities. In the beginning, taxpayers need to be aware that CBIC has issued specific guidelines regarding summons proceedings that, among other things, state that summons is only employed in the last instance when taxpayers aren’t cooperating. Furthermore, issuing summons only against the top management when investigation suggests that they are involved, and not in the first. They should also not be issued to appear during odd hours or for statements that should be made during formal hours, etc. These guidelines make clear that the language used in summons shouldn’t be excessively harsh and create stress or embarrassment for the taxpayer. They should also justify the reason for its summons’ issuance.
Beyond having these guidelines in mind Taxpayers should also know about the rights that may be exercised in the summons hearings:
Right of retraction: Tax officials often place undue pressure on taxpayers because that they’re compelled to provide inaccurate information. In this case, taxpayers are entitled to withdraw the false statement made during the summons process and replace that same statement with the correct statement. This can protect taxpayers from any adverse actions taken by tax authorities based on these inaccurate statements.
Right to remain silent: If the taxpayer is not sure of the answer to a question or isn’t certain about the correct answer, he can use this right not to speak. It should be noted that this right is a right granted by the Constitution to taxpayers and is not considered to be an offence or hindering of the proceeding as has been affirmed in the Supreme Court and High Courts in various decisions.
Right to cross examine: Tax authorities may influence the person summoned by referring to the adverse statements made by a third party who could be his friend, vendor/dealers from the business, etc. In this case, the taxpayer is not required to give in to the claims that are made by any third party and have the option to cross-check the other party to confirm the negative assertions made by him.
In recognizing the obligations and understanding taxpayers’ rights, they can ward off any difficulties brought on through the issuance of summons and avoid submitting to any pressures imposed by authorities. Therefore, a taxpayer must be aware and attentive to the above rights and obligations. Still if you face any issues or being misguided and harassed by GST officials then you can contact us to hire an Advocate who can assist you or we can help you in fixing GST filings.