The Indian tax year is from 1 April to 31 March.
An individual is required to file a separate return of income. Joint filing is not permitted. Husband and wife are treated as separate and independent individuals for the purposes of Indian income tax.
An individual engaged in a business or profession is required to have the books of account audited under the tax laws if the turnover/total sales/gross receipts exceeds INR 10 million in the case of a business or where the gross receipts exceed INR 5 million in the case of a profession.
The due date for individuals to file their tax returns is 31 July of the year immediately following the relevant tax year. In cases where the individual is required to have his/ her books of account audited under the tax laws, the due date is 31 October of the immediately following year. However, a belated/revised return can be filed before the expiry of the relevant assessment year. Budget 2021 has proposed to reduce the period of such revision by three months i.e. until 31 December, after close of the relevant tax year. The due date for filing the income-tax return for financial year 2019-20 has been extended from 31 July 2020 to 10 January 2021. In cases where an individual taxpayer (including partners in a firm) whose/ firm's accounts are required to be audited under the Income-tax Act, 1961 the due date for filing the income tax return is extended to 15 February 2021. Immunity has also been provided from interest under section 234A of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1961 till 10 January 2021/ 15 February 2021, as applicable. However, in cases where total tax payable after adjusting tax deducted at source/ tax collected at source, advance etc. exceeds INR 0.1m no such immunity will be available.
In cases where tax returns are filed after the due date, late fee of INR 10,000 will be levied. However, in case taxable income does not exceed INR 500,000, this fee shall not exceed INR 1,000.
Individuals who are 80 years old or more and qualify as RORs of India have an option to file their tax returns manually in ITR 1 or ITR 4. It is mandatory to file the return electronically if:
- there is a claim of refund
- the total income exceeds INR 500,000, or
- where the individual qualifies as an ROR and possesses foreign assets, or has the signing authority for any of his/her accounts located outside India.
To e-file the return, taxpayers have been using digital signatures for paperless filing, or could opt to forward the details of the e-filed return to the Central Processing Centre. Now, the government has announced a paperless way of e-filing of tax returns via Electronic Verification Code (EVC). The EVC is a 10-digit alpha-numeric code that is unique for each permanent account number and is generated for the purpose of electronic verification of the person in the e-filing website.
Mandatory furnishing of return of income
It is mandatory to file a return of income in the following cases:
- An individual qualifying as an ROR and owning foreign assets (as a beneficial owner or otherwise) or having signing authority in any account located outside India. Further, in case of taxpayers having assets outside India (including financial interest in any entity), the extant time limits of four and six years for reopening tax assessment (where income has escaped assessment) have been raised to 16 years. In case of a person who is treated as an agent of an NR, the time limit for issuing a reassessment notice is six years.
- A person deposits amounts more than INR 10 million in one or more current accounts maintained with banks or co-operative banks.
- A person incurs expenditure exceeding INR 200,000 for oneself/any other person for travel to a foreign country.
- A person incurs expenditure exceeding INR 100,000 towards consumption of electricity.
- A person who fulfils such other conditions as may be prescribed.
Budget 2021 has proposed to exempt the resident senior citizens (aged 75 years or more) having only pension and bank interest income from the specified bank from return filing requirement, subject to fulfilment of certain conditions.
Payment of tax
Final income-tax payment shall be made on or before the due date of filing of the income-tax return.
Further, if the taxpayer’s estimated tax liability (for the current tax year) after reducing withholding tax/foreign tax credit is likely to exceed INR 10,000, then the taxpayer must pay advance tax during the tax year on the basis of estimated income in four instalments: by 15 June (15% of the estimated annual tax liability), by 15 September (45% of the estimated annual tax liability), by 15 December (75% of the estimated annual tax liability), and by 15 March of the tax year (100% of the estimated annual tax liability). Resident senior citizens are exempted from the requirement of advance tax payments unless they have income from a business or profession.
An individual may not be required to withhold tax from payments he/she makes. However, in certain cases, an individual (engaged in business or profession) is required to withhold tax if he/ she is liable for audit under the tax law in the tax year immediately preceding the tax year in which the payment is made. In case of many other payments, the tax laws require a payer to withhold tax from the payment and deposit the same into the Indian Government Treasury within specified timelines. Such payers are also required to obtain a Tax Deduction Account Number (TAN) once, and file periodic returns of tax withheld. In case a non-resident does not have a permanent account number but furnishes an alternative document, no higher withholding tax shall be levied.
Similarly, where the individual is making payment of rent to a resident in excess of INR 50,000 per month, he/she is liable to withhold tax on such payment at the rate of 5% in the last month of the tax year or last month of tenancy, whichever is earlier.
Any transfer of immovable property (any land, building, or part of a building) to a resident will attract a withholding tax of 1% of the agreed consideration if the consideration value for a transfer is INR 5 million or more. This consideration includes all charges of the nature of club membership fee, car parking fee, electricity and water facility fee, maintenance fee, advance fee, or any charge of similar nature that are incidental to transfer of the immovable property. The withholding tax provisions will not apply in cases of transfer of agricultural land.
An employer is required to withhold tax from salaries at the time of payment of salary and deposit the same into the Government Treasury by the seventh day of the month following the month in which tax is withheld, except for the month of March, when the tax can be deposited on or before 30 April. An employer shall obtain evidence from the employees in the prescribed form and manner. This is aimed to curb the practices followed by companies of allowing deductions/exemptions on the basis of mere declaration by the employees.
Interest at 1% per month or part of the month is levied on the employer in case of a delay in deduction. Interest at 1.5% per month or part of the month is levied in case there is a delay in deposition of the taxes so deducted.
Black Money Taxation Act
The Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015 (the Black Money Taxation Act) covers all persons who were ROR in India, in accordance with provision of the Income-tax Act, either in the tax year to which the income relates or in the tax year in which the undisclosed asset located outside India was acquired. Any undisclosed foreign income or assets detected are to be taxed at the rate of 30% under the Black Money Taxation Act. Non-disclosure or inaccurate disclosure will attract a penalty of INR 1 million and may attract imprisonment of up to seven years. In addition, there is a provision for penalty of 300% of tax and imprisonment of up to ten years in case of wilful attempt to evade taxes on foreign income/assets.
Restriction on cash transactions
No person shall receive an amount of INR 200,000 or more in (i) aggregate from a person in a day, (ii) respect of a single transaction, or (iii) respect of transactions relating to one event or occasion from a person. A person will have to transact for amounts above the prescribed limit by way of an account payee cheque or account payee bank draft or use of electronic clearing system through a bank account. The provision shall not apply in case of:
- Any receipt by the government, any banking company, post office savings bank, or cooperative bank.
- Any other persons or class of persons or receipts that may be notified by the Central Government.
A penalty shall be levied on a person who receives a sum in contravention of provisions, and the penalty shall be equal to the amount of such receipt. However, the penalty shall not be levied if the person proves that there were good and sufficient reasons for such contravention.
In order to further discourage cash transactions and move towards less cash economy, a new provision was inserted attracting a 2% tax deducted at source on cash payments in excess of INR 10 million in aggregate made during the year by a banking company or cooperative bank or post office to any person from an account maintained by the recipient. Effective 1 July 2020, in case a person who has not filed the return of income for three tax years immediately preceding the relevant tax year in which the withdrawals are made and for which the due date for filing the tax return has expired, tax will be deducted at 2% on withdrawals exceeding INR 2 million or 5% if such withdrawals exceed INR 10 million.
Direct Tax Vivad Se Vishwas Scheme
The Direct Tax Vivad Se Vishwas Scheme is an attempt by the government of India to put an end to pending direct tax disputes. Depending on the contours of the pending dispute, a proportion of the total tax, interest, and penalty demanded needs to be paid under the Scheme for settlement. Originally, the tax dispute settlement under the Scheme was to be allowed without payment of any interest or penalty only till 31 March 2020. A penalty of 10% of disputed tax amount had to be paid after 31 March but before closure of Scheme. However, considering the COVID-19 outbreak, the deadline of 31 March 2020 to make the declaration has now been extended up to 31 January 2021 and the date to make the payment without additional amount has been extended to 31 March 2021.
Tax audit process
Audit for income-tax purposes
Persons carrying on business are required to get their books of account audited for income-tax purposes if the business turnover exceeds INR 10 million. For individuals opting for the presumptive taxation scheme, one shall not be required to get one’s accounts audited if the total turnover or gross receipts of the relevant previous year does not exceed INR 20 million. This has been effective from tax year 2017/18 onwards. For persons carrying on a profession, crossing the turnover threshold of INR 5 million will attract the requirement to have its books of accounts audited from 1 April 2017. The penalty for non-compliance with this audit requirement is INR 150,000, subject to 1% of total turnover/gross receipts.
Tax authorities, at any stage of proceedings, having regard to the nature, complexity, and volume of accounts or doubts on correctness of accounts or other reasons, may, after taking necessary approval of the Chief Commissioner, direct a taxpayer to get its accounts audited and to furnish the report.
Statute of limitations
The statute of limitations under the Act in the case of submission of returns is one year from the end of the relevant tax year, and for assessment of returns filed is 12 months (24 months in case transfer pricing provisions are applicable) from the end of the relevant tax year for which the return is filed. The statute of limitations for reassessment ranges from five years to 17 years from the end of the relevant tax year.
Topics of focus for tax authorities
With a view to roll out e-assessment across the country so as to impart greater transparency and accountability, the Central Government has been empowered to notify a new scheme for scrutiny assessments to achieve the desired purpose. This would enable the assessment to be carried out without any personal interface between the taxpayer and the revenue authorities.
General Anti Avoidance Rule (GAAR)
GAAR provisions were introduced by the Finance Act, 2017 and have been applicable since 1 April 2017. These provisions empower the tax department to declare an ‘arrangement’, or any part or step thereof, entered into by a taxpayer with the main purpose of obtaining tax benefit to be an 'Impermissible Avoidance Agreement' (IAA), the consequence of which would be denial of tax benefit under the Act or under the applicable tax treaty.
For GAAR provisions, an IAA means the main purpose of which is to obtain a tax benefit, and it:
- creates rights and obligations not at arm’s length
- results in abuse/misuse of provisions of this Act (directly/indirectly)
- lacks/is deemed to lack commercial substance, or
- is carried out in a manner that is not ordinarily employed for bona fide purposes.
The following are consequences if an arrangement is regarded as an IAA:
- Disregard/re-characterise the arrangement.
- Disregard corporate structure.
- Deny treaty benefit.
- Reassign place of residence/situs of assets or transactions.
- Reallocate income, expenses, relief, etc.
- Re-characterise equity-debt, income-expense, relief, etc.