CA Gautam Joshi
From 01-10-2011 via Notification No. 43/2011, all service tax returns are mandatorily required to file online. An online era will certainly ease whole service tax regime.
However, this new dynamic online era is having its own inherent risks and a threat to both assesses and filed authorities.
ST-3 returns can be directly filled up online on ACES website or an XML schema can be downloaded, filled up, converted in to XML file and uploaded on ACES website. Once the return is being filed in either of the way, ACES displays an acknowledgement of ST-3 return filed e.g. ABCDE1234ABC001_010123A001_ST3_042011. This number is to be quoted for all further communication.
What are the threats then?
On experience it is found that different field authorities ask for different number of copies or few don’t ask for any physical copy at all.
2. ABCDE1234ABC001_010123A001_ST3_042011 acknowledge number generated automatically by ACES website is not a unique number and is easily counterfeited. This could lead to unknown threats.
3. ST-3 return uploaded online does not require any digital signature.
4. Take a case where an assessee has filed ST-3 return online (where no digital signature requires) and has either not submitted a physical copy to field authorities or field authorities has refused to accept a copy of it or has not asked a copy voluntarily.
Question is where returns are uploaded without signature and no physical copies has been submitted to department with signature of authorized signatories what could be a legal validity of ST-3 return uploaded online?
However, in the above case, one may argue that field authorities now track the records and returns of assesses online from the website itself.
In old physical ear of Income Tax, it is accepted law that return filed without signature is not a return at all. Who would be accountable for a return not signed at all? However, the same analogies continue when ITR-V (Acknowledgement of ITR submitted online) has not been posted to Banglore and breach of this could be termed as not filling of return at all.
Procedural aspects have relaxations to assesses in all laws. Once the law has been substantially followed, filling returns (or submitting a physical copy to field authority or posting ITR-V acknowledgement to Banglore) is only a procedural aspect and benefit of doubt has all chances to go to assesses. However, we all know litigations take huge time involvement and costs.
Whereas, precaution is always better then cure.
All assesses filing their ST-3 return online must submit a SIGNED copy to field authorities and avoid further confusions and litigations.