Amendments in IT S. 144B to streamline Faceless Assessment procedure

Amendments proposed in the Faceless Assessment by substituting section 144B of the Income Tax Act, vide Clause 42 of the Finance Bill 2022 (budget 2022-23), to streamline the faceless assessment procedure so that no difficulties are faced by the administration and the taxpayers in the operation thereof, are as under:

1. The Central Government has undertaken a number of measures to make the processes under the Act electronic, by eliminating person to person interface between the taxpayer and the Department to the extent technologically feasible, and provide for optimal utilisation of resources and a team-based assessment with dynamic jurisdiction. As part of this policy, vide Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Act, 2020, section 144B was inserted in the Act to provide the procedure for faceless assessment with effect from 01.04.2021 and the Faceless Assessment Scheme, 2019 ceased to operate from that date.

2. However, various difficulties are being faced by the administration and the taxpayers in the operation of the faceless assessment procedure. In view of the above, it is proposed that the existing provisions of the section 144B of the Act may be amended to streamline the process of faceless assessment in order to address the various legal and procedural problems being faced in the implementation of the said section.

3. Therefore, it is proposed to substitute section 144B of the Act so as to provide that,-

(a) the provisions of the proposed section shall apply for faceless assessment, reassessment or recomputation under sub-section (3) of section 143 or under section 144 or under section 147 of the Act, as the case may be, in the cases specified therein.

(b) the National Faceless Assessment Centre (NaFAC) shall assign the case selected for the purposes of faceless assessment to a specific Assessment Unit (AU) and intimate the assessee that assessment in his case shall be completed in accordance with the procedure laid down in the proposed section.

(c) the assessee shall be served a notice under sub-section (2) of section 143 or under sub-section (1) of section 142 of the Act, through the NaFAC. The assessee may file his response to the aforementioned notice under sub-section (3) of section 143, within the date specified in such notice in this regard, to the NaFAC, which shall forward the reply to the AU.

(d) Thereafter, the AU may make a request, through the NaFAC, for obtaining such further information, documents or evidence from the assessee or any other person, as it may specify and the NaFAC shall serve appropriate notice or requisition on the assessee or any other person for obtaining such information, documents or evidence. The AU may also make a request, through the NaFAC, for conducting enquiry or verification by Verification Unit (VU) and the request shall be assigned by the NaFAC to a VU through an automated allocation system. The AU may also similarly make a request in respect of determination of arm’s length price, valuation of property, withdrawal of registration, approval,
exemption or any other technical matter by referring to the technical unit and the request shall be assigned by the NaFAC to a Technical Unit (TU) through an automated allocation system.

(e) The assessee or any other person, as the case may be, shall file his response in compliance to the said notice served by NaFAC, at the request of AU, to the NaFAC which shall forward the reply to the AU. If the assessee fails to comply with the said notice seeking information served by NaFAC, or the earlier notice under sub-section (2) of section 143 or under sub-section (1) of section 142, the NaFAC shall intimate the same to the AU. The AU shall serve upon the assessee, through NaFAC, a show cause notice under section 144 giving him the opportunity to explain as to why the assessment in his case should not be completed to the best of its judgement. Further any report received by the NaFAC, from the VU or TU shall also be forwarded to the AU.

(f) The assessee shall file his response to the show-cause notice under section 144 of the Act, within the time specified in such notice, to the NaFAC which shall forward the same to the AU. If the assessee fails to respond, the NaFAC shall intimate the same to the AU.

(g) The AU shall, after taking into account all the relevant material available on the record, prepare in writing, an income or loss determination proposal where no variation prejudicial to assessee is proposed and send the same to the NaFAC. If a variation is being proposed then a show cause notice is served on the assessee stating the variations proposed to be made to the income of the assessee and calling upon him to submit as to why the proposed variation should not be made, through the NaFAC.

(h) The assessee shall file his reply to the show cause notice to the NaFAC, on date and time as specified, which shall forward the reply to the AU. If the assessee fails to respond within the specified time, the NaFAC shall intimate the same to the AU. After considering the response of the assessee or the intimation of failure of the assessee to file a response received from NaFAC and all relevant material available on the record, the AU shall prepare an income or loss determination proposal, in writing, and send the same to the NaFAC.

(i) Upon receipt of the income or loss determination proposal, with or without any variations proposed to the income of the assessee, as the case may be, the NaFAC may, on the basis of guidelines issued by the Board, convey to the AU to prepare draft order in accordance with such income or loss determination proposal, which shall thereafter prepare a draft order, or assign the income or loss determination proposal to a Review Unit (RU) through an automated allocation system, which shall conduct a review of such order, prepare a review report and send it to NaFAC.

(j) The NaFAC shall forward the review report received from the RU to the AU which had proposed the income or loss determination proposal. The AU may accept or reject some or all of the modifications proposed in such review report, prepare a draft order accordingly, and send it to NaFAC. The AU shall record reasons in writing if it is rejecting the modifications proposed by the RU.

(k) The NaFAC shall, upon receiving draft order in a case of eligible assessee, where there is a proposal to make any variation which is prejudicial to the interest of such assessee under sub-section (1) of section 144C for reference to Dispute Resolution Panel, serve such draft order on the assessee. In any case, other than that of eligible assessee under section 144C, the NaFAC shall convey to the AU to complete the assessment in accordance with such draft order, which shall thereafter pass the final assessment order and initiate penalty proceedings, if any, and send it to the NaFAC. The NaFAC shall serve a copy of such final assessment order, notice for initiating penalty proceedings, if any and the demand notice, specifying the sum payable by, or refund of any amount due to the assessee on the basis of such assessment, to the assessee.

(l) An eligible assessee, as referred to in section 144C, shall, upon receiving the draft order as served on him above, shall file his acceptance of the variations proposed in such draft order or file objections, if any, to such variations, with the Dispute Resolution Panel, under section 144C and the NaFAC, within the period specified in sub-section (2) of section 144C.

(m) In case the variations proposed in the draft order are accepted by the assessee or not objected to within the time given in sub-section (2) of section 144C, the NaFAC shall intimate the AU of the same, which shall complete the assessment, on the basis of the draft order, within the time allowed under sub-section (4) of section 144C and initiate penalty proceedings, if any, and send the order to the NaFAC.

(n) Where the eligible assessee files objections with the Dispute Resolution Panel, against the variations proposed in the draft order in his case, the NaFAC shall send such intimation along with a copy of such objections to the AU. Upon receipt of the directions issued by the Dispute Resolution Panel in the case of an eligible assessee under section 144C, the NaFAC shall forward such directions to the AU. The AU shall complete the assessment within the time allowed in sub-section (13) of section 144C and initiate penalty proceedings, if any, in conformity with the directions issued by the Dispute Resolution Panel under sub-section (5) of section 144C, and send a copy of such order to the NaFAC.

(o) The NaFAC shall, upon receipt of final assessment order, in the case of an eligible assessee under section 144C or in other cases, serve a copy of such order and notice for initiating penalty proceedings, if any, on the assessee, along with the demand notice, specifying the sum payable by, or the amount of refund due to, the assessee on the basis of such assessment. The NaFAC shall, after completion of assessment, transfer all the electronic records of the case to the Assessing Officer having jurisdiction over the said case for such action as may be required under the Income-tax Act.

(p) The proposed section also provides that faceless assessment shall be made in respect of persons or class of persons, or incomes or class of incomes, or cases or class of cases or such territorial area, as may be specified by the Board.

(q) The proposed section also provides that Board may, for the purposes of faceless assessment, set up the following Centre and units and specify their functions and jurisdiction, namely:-

(i) a National Faceless Assessment Centre to facilitate the conduct of faceless assessment proceedings in a centralised manner;

(ii) assessment units (referred to as AU), as it may deem necessary to conduct the faceless assessment, to perform the function of making assessment, which includes identification of points or issues material for the determination of any liability (including refund) under the Act, seeking information or clarification on points or issues so identified, analysis of the material furnished by the assessee or any other person, and such other functions as may be required for the purposes of making faceless assessment and the term “assessment unit”, wherever used in this section, shall refer to an Assessing Officer having powers to the extent so assigned by the Board;

(iii) verification units (referred to as VU), as it may deem necessary to facilitate the conduct of faceless assessment, to perform the function of verification, which includes enquiry, cross verification, examination of books of account, examination of witnesses and recording of statements, and such other functions as may be required for the purposes of verification and the term “verification unit”, wherever used in this section, shall refer to an Assessing Officer having powers so assigned by the Board;

Further, the function of verification unit under this section may also be performed by a verification unit located in any other faceless centre set up under the provisions of this Act or under any scheme notified under the provisions of the Act and the request for verification may also be assigned through the National Faceless Assessment Centre to such verification unit.;

(iv) technical units (referred to as TU), as it may deem necessary to facilitate the conduct of faceless assessment, to perform the function of providing technical assistance which includes any assistance or advice on legal, accounting, forensic, information technology, valuation, transfer pricing, data analytics, management or any other technical matter under this Act or an agreement entered into under sections 90 or 90A, which may be required in a particular case or a class of cases and the term “technical unit”, wherever used in this section, shall refer to an Assessing Officer having powers so assigned by the Board;

(v) review units (referred to as RU), as it may deem necessary to facilitate the conduct of faceless assessment, to perform the function of review of the income determination proposal assigned under sub-clause (b) of clause (xix) of sub-section (1), which includes checking whether the relevant and material evidence has been brought on record, relevant points of fact and law have been duly incorporated, the issues on which addition or disallowance should be made have been incorporated and such other functions as may be required for the purposes of review and the term “review unit”, wherever used in this section, shall refer to an Assessing Officer having powers so assigned by the Board.

(r) It is also proposed that the AU, VU, TU and the RU shall have the following authorities, namely:-

(i) Additional Commissioner or Additional Director or Joint Commissioner or Joint Director, as the case may be;

(ii) Deputy Commissioner or Deputy Director or Assistant Commissioner or Assistant Director, or Income-tax Officer, as the case may be;

(iii) such other income-tax authority, ministerial staff, executive or consultant, as considered necessary by the Board.

(s) The proposed section also provides that all communication, among the AU, RU, VU or TU or with the assessee or any other person with respect to the information or documents or evidence or any other details, as may be necessary for the purposes of making a faceless assessment shall be through the NaFAC, between the NaFAC and the assessee, or his authorised representative, or any other person and all internal communications between the NaFAC and various units shall be exchanged exclusively by electronic mode. However, this provision shall not apply to the enquiry or verification conducted by the verification unit in the circumstances as may be specified by the Board in this regard.

(t) It is further proposed that for the purposes of faceless assessment, an electronic record shall be authenticated by the NaFAC by way of an electronic communication, by the AU or VU or TU or RU, as the case may be, by affixing digital signature and by the assessee or any other person, by affixing his digital signature or under electronic verification code, or by logging into his registered account in the designated portal. It is also proposed that every notice or order or any other electronic communication shall be delivered to the addressee, being the assessee, by way of placing an authenticated copy thereof in the registered account of the assessee or by sending an authenticated copy thereof to the registered email address of the assessee or his authorised representative or by uploading an authenticated copy on the assessee’s Mobile App, and followed by a real time alert.

(u) The proposed section further seeks to provide that the assessee shall file his response to any notice or order or any other electronic communication, through his registered account, and once an acknowledgement is sent by the NaFAC containing the hash result generated upon successful submission of response, the response shall be deemed to be authenticated. The time and place of dispatch and receipt of electronic record shall be determined in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

(v) A person shall not be required to appear either personally or through authorised representative in connection with any proceedings before any unit set up under the proposed section.

(w) Further, it is proposed that in a case where a variation is proposed in the income or loss determination proposal or the draft order, and an opportunity is provided to the assessee by serving a notice calling upon him to show cause as to why the assessment should not be completed as per such income or loss determination proposal, the assessee or his authorised representative, as the case may be, may request for personal hearing so as to make his oral submissions or present his case before the income-tax authority of the relevant unit. Where the request for personal hearing has been received, the income-tax authority of relevant unit shall allow such hearing, through NaFAC, which shall be conducted exclusively through video conferencing or video telephony, including use of any telecommunication application software which supports video conferencing or video telephony, to the extent technologically feasible, in accordance with the procedure laid down by the Board. Any examination or recording of the statement of the assessee or any other person (other than the statement recorded in the course of survey under section 133A) shall be conducted by an income-tax authority in the relevant unit, exclusively through video conferencing or video telephony, including use of any telecommunication application software which supports video conferencing or video telephony, to the extent technologically feasible, in accordance with the procedure laid down by the Board.

(x) It is proposed that the Board shall establish suitable facilities for video conferencing or video telephony including telecommunication application software which supports video conferencing or video telephony at such locations as may be necessary, so as to ensure that the assessee, or his authorised representative, or any other person is not denied the benefit of faceless assessment merely on the consideration that such assessee or his authorised representative, or any other person does not have access to video conferencing or video telephony at his end. The Principal Chief Commissioner or the Principal Director General, as the case may be, in charge of the NaFAC shall, with the prior approval of the Board, lay down the standards, procedures and processes in the specified manner for effective functioning of the NaFAC and the units set up, in an automated and mechanised environment.

(y) The proposed section also seeks to provide that if at any stage of the proceedings before it, the AU having regard to the nature and complexity of the accounts, volume of the accounts, doubts about the correctness of accounts, multiplicity of transactions in the accounts or specialized nature of business activity of the assessee, and the interests of the revenue, is of the opinion that it is necessary to do so, it may, upon recording its reasons in writing, refer the case to the NaFAC stating that the provisions of sub-section (2A) of section 142 may be invoked in the case. The Principal Chief Commissioner or the Principal Director General, as the case may be, in charge of the NaFAC shall, in accordance with the procedure laid down by the Board in this regard, if he considers appropriate that the provisions of sub-section (2A) of section 142 may be invoked in the case, forward the reference received from the AU to the Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner having jurisdiction over such case, and inform the AU accordingly. Such case shall also be taken up for transfer to the jurisdictional Assessing Officer with the approval of the Board. Where a reference has been received the Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner, having jurisdiction over such case, he shall direct the Assessing Officer having jurisdiction over such case to invoke the provisions of sub-section (2A) of section 142. However, where a reference has not been forwarded to the Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner, having jurisdiction over such case, the AU shall proceed to complete the assessment in accordance with the procedure laid down in the proposed section.

(z) It is also proposed to provide that the Principal Chief Commissioner or the Principal Director General, as the case may be, in charge of National Faceless Assessment Centre may, at any stage of the assessment, if considered necessary, transfer the case, in addition to a case referred to in (y) to the Assessing Officer having jurisdiction over such case, with the prior approval of the Board. It is also proposed to define the terms such as electronic verification code, assessment unit, technical unit, verification unit, review unit etc used in the proposed section.

This amendment will take effect from 1st April, 2022.

(II) Sub-section (9) of section 144B of the Act provides that the assessment proceedings shall be void if the procedure mentioned in the section was not followed. The said sub-section refers to violation of the procedure laid down by the law whereas a large number of disputes have been raised under this subsection involving technical issues arising due to use of information technology, leading to unnecessary litigation. It is, therefore, proposed to omit this subsection i.e., sub-section (9) of section 144B from its date of inception.

This amendment will take effect retrospectively from 1st April, 2021. 71902

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