Thursday, July 07, 2011

The delay is on account of computer system blocking the refund - reply to RTI query for Income Tax Refund

My Income tax refund saga has spilled over to other posts in recent past. So, here I would like to share certain points to be kept in mind while making a RTI (Right to Information) application.

Brief History
For Assessment Year 2006-07 and 2007-08 my case was taken up for scrutiny and Assessing Officer  passed orders u/s 143(3) for refund of Income tax on 18-11-2008 and 31-8-2009 respectively. Since I did not receive the refund within the prescribed limit of 1 month from the date of order, I wrote number of letters to the ITO. I did not get a single reply. Hence I visited them personally 3 to 4 times but every time they sent me back with mis-leading replies e.g., system is blocked because you have one more PAN number (this PAN was already cancelled by ITax long back), we will have to prepare the cheque manually and so on.

RTI Application
I read in one news paper that income tax refund is covered under RTI Act. So, I said - let's try this out. And with about 3 months of effort I got the Refund with Interest. Cost incurred - Rs.24/-!! In the process there were many things I learnt. Here is the list:

1. Making RTI query to a Central Government is different from State Government. For Central Government one has to get either Demand draft, Pay Order or Indian Postal Order called IPO (available from Post offices) of Rs.10/-. But, to my surprise I had to visit at least 5 post offices before I could get it. Most of post offices are out of stock and have no information as to when they will get. One hint, ask for Rs.5/-, Rs.20/- IPO. One can attach Rs.20/- IPO instead of Rs.10/-; or 2 x Rs.5/- IPO. You will have to pay Rs.2/- commission on Rs.10/- IPO - although printed value of commission on IPO is Rs.1/-. That's massive 20% commission! May be RTI is required to un-earth a scam in to commission also!!

Format for application is not fixed but it should cover information like Name of applicant, subject matter of information, period for which information is required, and description of information required. While submitting the RTI one is required to mention name of payee. Finding this information is a big problem. For Income tax, I learnt that it is "Accounts Officer, Income Tax Dept, Govt of India".

For RTI query to State Government one has make payment by purchasing Non-judicial stamps of Rs.10/- and affix on the RTI application. Also, format for each State government dept is different and available from dept or web site. Earlier, post offices were accepting cash payments but it has stopped now.

2. Before you make an application, you will have to find out who is Public Information Officer (PIO) of the department. Generally this information should be readily available; and most government web sites claims to give this information. But, most of the time you will find that either link is not working or this information is just not given anywhere or some similar problem.

For Income tax refund, after great deal of effort, I found out that my Assessing Officer (AO) - who is supposed to assess my Income tax Return is the designated Public Information Officer. So, see the fun; the person against whom I have a complaint is the person who is going to give the answer! Hence RTI application for Income tax refund should be addressed to PIO, Assessing Officer (ITO/AC), Income Tax Ward / Circle No. ITO-xx(x)-x, his address with PIN code.

3. One can submit the RTI application at Post offices i.e., post office will accept your RTI application and forward it to the addressed PIO i.e., government officer free of cost. So, submission of RTI application as Post office saves us cost of sending application by hand delivery / Registered AD / Speed Post. List of Post offices accepting RTI application is put on India Post web site (http://www.indiapost.gov.in/). But I found information is not updated for a long time i.e., many more post offices accept RTI applications that list given there. Note that one should not send RTI application through courier. Also, on-line application for RTI is not accepted, so far.

4. Do not write questions against 'description of information required'. Instead, write that my questions are given in annexure-1. In annexure-1 write questions in a tabular form - each question serially numbered. Do not ask more than one question against each serial number.

5. In RTI query, remember that one ask for "information" only i.e., one can not ask "why" certain thing was not done. For example, one can not say 'Why no action is taken against Assessment Officer?' Instead one can ask 'Give details of reasons recorded for not taking action against the assessment officer for dereliction of duty'.

6. It is extremely important to draft the application properly. If not done with care, government departments have mastered the art of giving evasive replies. So, it is important that a knowledgeable person helps you to draft the text of the application. In fact, from my experience I can say that one requires a lawyer to draft it.

Also, remember that for sensitive information like Income tax refund, one has to make RTI application himself only. If not done information would be denied. Also, one has make query in individual capacity clearly stating that "I - , citizen of India, hereby apply for following information under the RTI Act 2005." One can not make application on behalf of firm, organization etc.

For my RTI application, I had gathered few drafts available on various sites for Income tax refund. After combining few of them I made an initial draft. I showed it to a group of helping people from "Tarun Mitra Mandal". They have a set of volunteers in various parts of Mumbai city, who give free advice on one particular day of the week, generally in the evenings/night time. More information about them can be found at http://www.thetmm.org/. Don't be fooled by their simple website. They are very knowledgeable and truly helpful people giving a very useful service free of charge.

In stead of going in to lot of details, in summary, I had to make 2 RTI applications. First got me the payment of refund without any interest. Second one got me the interest for late payment at 6% pa, calculated from 1st April of relevant Assessment year. For example, if AY is 2006-07 and interest becomes due from 1-4-2006.

Following table has text of my queries along with replies I received from the Income-Tax department and  last column says what I've learnt:

First RTI Application

Info. Asked by RTI application Dated
15-3-2011
Reply
from ITax dated
15-4-2011
Lesson learnt (How to anticipate evasive answers and framing clever questions)

1. In how many days is the Income Tax Department supposed to refund the tax amount
assessed in the Assessment Order u/s 143(3); and if refund is not given
within the timeframe; give details of concerned person (name, address and contact no) and what actions are taken against the concerned person?
Within
one month from the date of order of assessment u/s 143(3)
Since
questions are not separately numbered, answer is given only to first part.
So, each question should be separately numbered. Government officials are
good at giving incomplete / partial answers.

2. Please give status and progress report on complaint letters written on
31-3-2010, 20-5-2010, 21-9-2010 and 25-11-2010.
Your
complaint letters have been processed and your refund for AY 2006-07 and AY 2007-08 have been issued by this office through refund cheque dt. 1-4-2011
Answer given is as of 15-4-2011; and not as of 15-3-2011 i.e., when question was
asked. So, we should ask “Please give status and progress report as on RTI
query date (15-3-2011) on complaint…” Worst part is one cheque bounced back with reason "Reason(70): advice not received" I had to write a letter to the AO with copy of bounced cheque and cheque return advice and wait for 1 week before I got the payment from the bank.

3. If refund payment is made to the assessee, please give details of the same viz.,
Name, designation, address and contact phone no. of the concerned officer of Income tax department and Agent/Refund Banker, name and address of assessee
where cheque was sent, mode of dispatch viz., ordinary post /speed-post/registered post/ECS etc; date of dispatch, proof of dispatch, details of cheque/ECS viz., name of the bank, branch, date of cheque/ECS and
amount, date of delivery, date of encashment of cheque/ECS, if cheque is returned un-delivered – reason for non-delivery.
Refund
for A.Y. 2005-06 & 2007-08 has been sent by refund banker cheque, Advice
No.ITC/A7 812528 & 812529 dated 01/04/2011. The same is sent by
Registered speed post on 05/04/2011 on the address provided by you i.e., xxx,
Mumbai-xx.
Name: XY
Designation: ITO MM(N)-P
Office address: xxx,xx
Tele:xxx
Here, although Refund was not given on date of RTI application; AO made the Refund cheques without Interest u/s 244A and sent out. Also he did not send advice
No.ITC/A7 along with the 2 cheques. And he cleverly replies that Refund has
been sent. So, to not to allow this type of reply, one should mention
clearly “Provide status of Refund as on date of RTI query and not as on date
of your reply”


If question 2 was properly framed answer to this question would have been
negative.

4. In case of non-delivery of refund cheque for any reason; what steps are taken by
Income tax department and Agent/Refund banker to inform the assessee about
the non-delivery of refund cheque? In case, no action is taken – please
provide the name, address and phone number of person from whom assessee can
get the refund cheque along with procedure for claiming such refund cheques and in what time period he is supposed to get the refund cheque.
N.A.No comment.

5. In case, no refund payment is made to the assessee please give following
details:

a. Name, Designation, Office Address, Office Telephone Number, Mobile Numbers
(in case mobile provided and paid for by the office) of the officer of the
Income Tax department who is responsible for the inordinate delay of Income tax refund, action taken for dereliction of duties and if no action is
initiated, reasons thereof be made known to me.
b. Give details of number of days in which this officer is supposed to issue the refund payment to the assessee as per rules/procedures of Income tax
department
c. Please inform me the reasons for non-payment of refund payment under Sec
4(1)(d) of the RTI Act, since I am an “affected” person.
d. By which date I should expect to get the refund payment along with interest due to me.
e. Give detailed calculation of interest mentioning no of days and interest rate,
which assessee is entitled to receive for the late payment of refund amount.
[No reply. In fact, reply for 6 is given at 5]Here question is not answered at all. I wish question
was written as given below:

“In case, Income tax refund is not done to the assessee on or before date of
RTI query (15-3-2011) please give following details:..”


Any way, this seems to be a standard technique to avoid giving reply to
uncomfortable questions. Go for appeal.  In appeal, demand Penalty
for not giving answer
e.g., “I demand imposition of Penalty under Section
20 of the RTI Act, at the rate of Rs. 250.00 for every day of delay (subject
to a maximum of Rs. 25,000.00) from the date the information was due
(15-4-2011) till the date the information is actually given to me.”

6. The Name, Office Address, Office telephone number and Mobile Number of the Higher
Officer to whom a First appeal will lie under Sec 19(1) of the RTI act 2005
Name: GH
Designation: Joint Commissioner of Income Tax Rg M (N)
Office Address:xx,x
Tele: xx
No
comment


Second RTI Application

Details of Further Information required through RTI application dated 18-5-2011Reply
from Income Tax Dept dated 21-6-2011
Lesson learnt (How to anticipate evasive answers and framing clever questions)

1. If refund is given after one month of assessment u/s 143(3) then as per Income tax act
(a) give details of rate of interest  payable for the late payment
(b) from which date to which date interest becomes payable to the assessee.
(c) Reasons recorded for not paying interest along with the income tax refund
amount.

(d) give detailed calculation of Interest payable to assessee particularly
mentioning rate of interest, period for which interest is paid (start date
and end date) and number of days for which interest is payable for AY 2006-7 and 2007-08.
(a)
Rate of Interest is 0.5%

(b) From 1st April of the relevant A.Y. to the date of refund
order

(c) The delay is on account of computer system blocking the refund

(d) As per ITNS 150 enclosed herewith.
(a) 0.5% is per month and not per annum. Confusing. Isn't it?

(b) We
should try to get exact date e.g., 1-4-2006/2007 to 1-6-2011

(c) Technically this is a wrong answer. We should expect this answer and cleverly frame question e.g., “Please note evasive reply like ‘delay is on
account of computer system ...’ etc. are not acceptable.”


(d) ITNS 150 does not mention rate of interest, period, no. of days (we
should write months).

2. (a) Reasons recorded for undue delay in taking action on complaint letters.
(b) Name and designation of officers responsible for the same.
(c) Whether any disciplinary action taken the responsible officers or not. If not, reasons recorded for the same.
(d) Name and designation of senior officers authorized to take action against the
responsible officers for delay.
(a) The
delay is on account of computer system blocking the refund.

(b) Not applicable

(c) Not applicable

(d) The Jt. Commissioner of Income Tax-Rg.NN(M) Mumbai
(a) Absolutely wrong answer.

(b) wrong answer

(c) wrong answer

(d) No comment

One should appeal against this answer. Or expect this answer & cleverly
frame question (read above remark)

3. Give details of total number of pending income-tax refunds overdue by 1 month from
your office
[No reply. In fact, reply for 4 is given at 3 and so on. So, last reply is for 5]In appeal, demand Penalty for not giving information.

4. Give details of number of orders passed but refunds still lying in custody of your
office and dispatch clerk and Refund Banker/agency for more than 1 month
No Day to day progress report maintained since refund order are issued on computer
through Refund Banker. SBI.
Evasive
answer. Go for appeal for not giving correct answer.

5. Whether any disciplinary action is taken against the responsible income tax officer, dispatch clerk and Refund Banker/agency for not refunding the amount in time. If no action is taken reasons recorded for the same.Not applicable.Why not
applicable? Wrong answer. Go in appeal.

6. Give name and designation of senior officer to look after and supervise the proper and timely dispatch of refund orders along with interest to the assessee.The
Incumbent Assessing Officer Shri XY, ITO-NN(M)-P. Mumbai. Under the
supervision of Shri PQ, Jt. CIT-Rg.NN(M). Mumbai.
No comment.









7. One may ask me why I did not go for Appeal rather than choosing to make second RTI application, asking for 'further information'. In fact, I had prepared the Appeal but on careful thinking and advice from a welwisher, I decided against it. Main reason behind this decision was that purpose of my RTI application was not to expose inefficiency but to get result. As long as I got the result that I wanted, I could not ask for more.

Let me have your feedback.