What was in the realm of fantasy till yesterday is now in the realm of reality thanks to the forward-looking approach adopted by the Tribunal. The Tribunal, grappling with the problems of paucity of Members and the increasing case load, is contemplating setting up E-Courts/ E-Benches to solve the problem. This will help clear the pendency of cases and bring justice to the assessee’s doorstep. If the concept is successful, it can be extended to the High Courts & the Supreme Court. The author explains the practical implications of the proposal and makes suggestions on how the concept should be implemented to make it a grand success
The Income-tax Appellate Tribunal which was established on 25th January, 1941 has completed more than 71 years of its existence. It is considered as mother of all Tribunal’s established in our country. It has 63 benches at 27 stations. The Hon’ble President of ITAT Mr. G. E. Veerabhadrappa with the help of Hon’ble Vice-presidents and Members desire to establish e-Tribunal for better administration of justice. Tax Bar, Departmental representatives and Hon’ble Members of the Tribunal had an interactive meeting with the Hon’ble President of ITAT on 2-3-2012 and all the members present at the meeting are of the considered view that the concept of e-Tribunal will benefit the assessees, tax administration and tax consultants. It will also benefit the Institution in reducing the pendency of tax appeals and substantial amount of tax payers money will be saved which otherwise required to be spent for setting up the Benches, at different places.
We are debating how the concept of e-Tribunal can help to reduce the pendency of tax appeals and better administration of justice. We are of the considered view that the concept of e-Tribunal definitely helps to a great extent to reduce the pendency and deliver justice at litigants door step. As on today pendency of appeals before the Tribunal is 55,000 and in 11 destinations the pendency of tax appeals are less than 1000. Hence, though there is a bench, the pendency is being very negligible the permanent posting of members are not being done. (Refer AIFTP Journal January 2012 P. 51) As the bench is not functioning in a particular place in case of an emergency for stay of recovery the assessee may have to make an application to hear the stay application by any other bench of the Tribunal stationed at a different place but within the Zone. It may be situated very far which involves cost and time. The concept of e-Tribunal will help the tax payers, tax consultants and Tax administration. For example: Matter of Nagpur bench will be heard at e-Bench of Tribunal at Mumbai. The consultant will visit the Court / Tribunal at Nagpur, will present his case as he is representing before the Bench at Nagpur, similarly, the revenue will be represented at Nagpur, the members sitting at Mumbai will hear the case and pronounce the judgment at Mumbai. The order will be served at Nagpur as per procedure laid down by the Rules of Tribunal. If it works well then e-Benches of the Tribunal may be extended to many smaller cities of our country, e.g. Hubli, Aurangabad, Vishakhapatnam, etc. Setting up e-Tribunal, does not require any big establishment and with an area of 1500 square feet an e-Tribunal can be set up. This will enable the consultants to represent the matter from their own city. As per the concept the assessee will be given an option to ‘opt in’ and ‘opt out’. In case the assessee does not desire the matter be heard by e-Tribunal, he can opt out, the option will be given to him even at the time of hearing of matter by e-Tribunal. There will not be any prejudice caused to the assessee by hearing the matter before e-Tribunal, he will be given a full opportunity to represent the matter. For representing the matter before e-Tribunal a consultant need not be technical savvy, he need not invest any amount on computers etc for making representation before the e-Tribunal. According to us the concept of e-Tribunal will help the consultants of smaller places to represent the cases before Tribunal, similarly it will also help the department, the officer who framed the assessment order may represent before the Tribunal to defend his case. The Income-tax Appellate Tribunal Rule is amended and now the Chief Commissioner is authorized to appoint persons to represent the cases before the Tribunal.
I have interacted with tax professionals from Nagpur, Allahabad, Ranchi, Rajasthan and Hyderabad and I found the initial response is very positive. I am of the opinion that this will bring revolution in justice delivery system and the initiation of mother Tribunal will be acknowledged and appreciated. If it works well the concept of e-Court can be extended to other judicial forums, Tribunals and even for hearing the matters before the Apex Court. Sitting at Mumbai or Gauhati High Court we can represent the matter before e-Court of Apex Court. Federation has forwarded the representation from time to time to setup the Benches of Apex Court in four different Zones, however, though the Government has agreed the Full court of Supreme Court has not agreed and hence the setting up of Branches of Apex Court may be difficult. However, we are of the opinion that if the e-Court of Apex Court can link with High Court of Bombay and different High Court, a lawyer can argue the matter before Apex Court sitting at Bombay High Court. Initially an option may be given to the litigants whether he desire to be heard by e-Court of Apex Court or not. Now because of cost and time many smaller assessees cannot afford to approach the Apex Court. Even a single adjournment will cost to the assessee about ` 10 lakhs. Many times when Revenue takes the matter to Apex Court the smaller assessee are not in a position to engage a lawyer to represent the matter because of cost factor of filing of Vakalatnama, engaging a counsel for representation and uncertainty of reaching of the matter. In one of the matter before Apex Court counsel had to go about seven times, the matter did not reach, and on the last hearing he did not go thinking that matter will not reach, however, matter reached and was disposed. Only for adjournments the assessee had to spend more than ` 10 lakhs. We have forwarded our suggestions to Hon’ble Law Minister when he visited Mumbai, for addressing the Members Conference at Mumbai to link the Supreme Court with various High Courts to start with hearing SLP in revenue matters.
Whole concept of e-Tribunal or e-Court, apart from facilitating the assessee and tax consultants, it will also help to reduce the pendency of cases before different forums; it will also save substantial capital and recurring expenditure of the Government which can be used for better productive purposes. We are of the view that, there will be complete transparency in justice delivery system, it may also help to reduce the alleged unethical practice adopted by few tax practitioners. We are of the opinion that after seeing the success of e-Tribunal entire process of filing of appeals and documents in hard copy can be dispensed with, after few years and we may have a paperless e-Tribunal. If the response of Government is positive the e-Tribunal will be set up at Mumbai and Delhi within one month, there will be mock demonstration of functioning of e-Tribunal before end of March and the consultants from Nagpur and Allahabad may have an opportunity to argue before the e-Tribunal by the end of May, 2012. One of the criticism against the judiciary is delay in disposal of cases before various Courts. The concept of e-Court can be extended to dispose of various civil and criminal cases which are pending before various courts. For the time being the Government need not spend any amount for building courts or infrastructure, the court can be held in Schools after school hours, it can be held in buildings of charitable institutions or even municipal offices. The e-court can be held in Panchayat Building of village. This will also facilitate the villagers and they need not travel and waste their time for attending the Courts. It is also worth considering that can we develop the e-Mobile Court, in a specially designed vehicle with facility of e-Library, with all modern technology, as soon as the hearing is over the judgment will be delivered to both the parties. This will bring transparency, it will avoid delay in justice delivery system, it will also avoid alleged unethical practice. Once the concept of e-Mobile Court is accepted the justice will be at the door step of village and entire country will be benefited. We are sure all citizens will get the justice with in six moth of filing of petition or suit in respective Court. If we are able to develop the concept of e-Court, e-Tribunal and e-Mobile Court we will be bringing a revolution in the justice delivery system and other parts of world may also implement the said concept. We have made an appeal to the National President of the AIFTP to hold a debate on the concept of e-Tribunal at National Executive Committee Meeting which is scheduled on 16th March, 2012 at Guwahati and send their view to the Hon’ble President of ITAT. We are also making an appeal to all professionals organizations and professionals to consider the concept of e-Tribunal and send their valuable suggestion after considering the pros and cons thereof. We will appreciate suggestions from the readers and all concerned with the institution.
Reproduced with permission from the AIFTP Journal, March 2012