GST Charcha on Union Budget 2021: Can GST department provisionally attach Property/Bank Account of any Person?
The Hon’ble Finance Minister, in Budget 2021-22, hailed as a ‘development-oriented’ and ‘visionary’ budget amid the pandemic-induced disruptions, inter alia, announced multiple changes to the Goods and Services Tax (“GST”) framework. The changes have been proposed vide the Finance Bill, 2021, that amends the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 (“CGST Act”) and the Integrated Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 (“IGST Act”), in order to ease doing of business, curb input credit frauds, safeguard Government revenues and to provide statutory backing to debated Rules.
This GST Charcha deciphers into recent changes in GST Laws made vide Clause No. 106 of the Finance Bill, 2021 with respect to provisional attachment of property/bank account.
Sub-section (1) of Section 83 of the CGST Act is proposed to be substituted:
“Provisional attachment to protect revenue in certain cases
(1) Where, after the initiation of any proceeding under Chapter XII, Chapter XIV or Chapter XV, the Commissioner is of the opinion that for the purpose of protecting the interest of the Government revenue it is necessary so to do, he may, by order in writing, attach provisionally, any property, including bank account, belonging to the taxable person or any person specified in sub-section (1A) of section 122, in such manner as may be prescribed.”
Discussion and Comments:
Provisional Attachment of Property/ Bank Account:
Section 83(1) of the CGST Act that deals with provisional attachment of any property to protect revenue, is proposed to be amended in a manner, to widen the scope of the power to provisionally attach any property by replacing specified Sections covered therein with complete Chapters of the CGST Act. Also, it is provided that provisional attachment shall remain valid for the entire period starting from the initiation of any proceeding under Chapter XII (assessment), Chapter XIV (inspection, search, seizure and arrest) or Chapter XV (Demands and Recovery) till the expiry of a period of one year from the date of order made thereunder.
In addition, the Commissioner is now empowered to provisionally attach, property belonging to any persons who retain the benefits arising out of an offence or at whose instance the offence is committed.
The scope of Section 83(1) of the CGST Act has been widened, so as to provide for provisional attachment of property in case of any action being initiated by authorities pertaining to assessment, inspection, search, seizure & arrest and demand & recovery, whereas, earlier, the attachment could only be made while during the pendency of any proceedings under specified Sections viz., Section 62 (assessment of non-filers of returns) or Section 63 (assessment of unregistered persons) or Section 64 (summary assessment in certain special cases) or Section 67 (power of inspection, search and seizure) or Section 73 (determination of tax in non-fraud cases) or Section 74 (determination of tax in fraud cases) of the CGST Act.
Thus, while earlier the provisions listed were more of those undertaken to check tax evasions (inspection, search, seizure, adjudication of SCN), the amended provision provides for such coercive measure even in case of regular proceedings in case of regular taxpayers like scrutiny of returns, provisional assessment, access to business premises etc. Further, such power can now be exercised even at the stage of summon.
Seemingly, such wide powers can increase the misuse of this provision by Revenue even more, when casual exercise of powers under Section 83 is still under scanner of various High Courts which have time and again held in plethora of judgments that an order of provisional attachment cannot be as a matter of course. It is one of the drastic measures which the authority may be compelled to take if the situation demands for the purpose of protecting the interest of the Government Revenue. Recently, the Gujarat HC in Vinodkumar Murlidhar Chechani v. State of Gujarat [R/Special Civil Application No. 12498 of 2020 decided on February 3, 2021] has directed Government to issue appropriate instructions or guidelines at the earliest w.r.t to excise of power of provisional attachment under Section 83 of the CGST Act. Thus, some strict framework for exercising Section 83 needs to be put in place.
Note: Amendments carried out in the Finance Bill, 2021 will come into effect from the date when the same will be notified and when the said clause also gets concurrently notified with the corresponding amendments passed by the respective States and Union territories in respective SGST/ UTGST Act.
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