New Delhi : The Supreme Court today said that only chartered or cost accountants will be eligible to audit and certify sales tax returns in bid to prevent evasion. The decision would affect the lawyers specialising in Sales Tax laws and former Sales Tax officers who work as sales tax practitioners.

A bench comprising Justice H K Sema and Justice Markenday Katju while dismissing the petitions filed by the Sales Tax Practitioners Association of Maharashtra and the Bar Council of Maharashtra upholding the Bombay High Court’s judgement that held only chartered or cost accountants would be eligible to certify sales tax returns. “There must be judicial restraint. We will not interfere. Tell legislature to amend the law,” Justice Katju observed.

The High Court while upholding an amendment to Maharashtra Value Added Tax Act had observed that “the objective is to facilitate prevention of evasion of tax.” The Act makes it mandatory for traders — with annual sale of over Rs40 lakh — to file sales tax returns verified only by chartered or cost accountants.

Earlier, traders had to hire only sales tax lawyers or former sales tax officers as advisers in tax matters. But a recent amendment to the Act made it mandatory for traders with sale of over Rs40 lakhs to get their accounts audited and certified only by a chartered or cost accountant.
The amendment specifies that only a CA can audit the account and allows lawyers and other sales tax practitioners to represent traders before sales tax commissioner and tribunals, but specifically bars them from auditing accounts.

According to the High Court, as per the Advocates’ Act, 1961, advocates can only practice law, and that prevents them from working as an auditor.

The petitioners claimed that this restraint violated right to equality enshrined in the Constitution and would force traders to cough up extra money for engaging CAs or cost accountants. Holding that advocates and other sales tax practitioners were not qualified for this job, the High Court had said that “auditing is a specialised job which can be undertaken by the person professionally competent and trained to audit.”

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