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Govt's move to have a charter of taxpayers is welcome but it needs strong execution

 Govt's move to have a charter of taxpayers is welcome but it needs strong execution

In her budget speech, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed a potentially powerful tax reform. GoI, it seems, will be incorporating a charter of taxpayers’ rights in the Income-Tax (I-T) Act soon. After the US and Canada, India will become the third country to incorporate such a charter in its tax code. If this statutory charter helps change official attitudes, it could be a game changer, for the way in which government departments function.

The road ahead, however, is pretty steep. Much would depend on how serious GoI is in implementing this reform. The problem that Sitharaman has sought to address is intricate. It’s a significant manifestation of India’s low-trust society.

A citizen’s charter for one department is unlikely to fully address this problem. But a beginning has to be made. A charter is necessary for another reason as well. As US taxpayer service advocate Nina E Olson reminds us, ‘taxpayer rights are human rights’.

The high-handedness of I-T officials against taxpayers has a long history. Overpitched assessments and bogus additions, which officials think nothing of making, spring from a curious mix of anachronistic socialist and feudal values. Some of these date back to the days of the licence-permit raj of the 1950s, when GoI placed stringent controls on the functioning of the private sector.

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