Mumbai, May 13, 2017

The Income-Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) may soon give priority to hearings where the cases pertain to salaried taxpayers, senior citizens or non residents, provided these individuals do not have any income from business or profession.

Appeals filed by or against individuals over 80 years, will also be given a priority in all cases, irrespective of their nature of income. Few other categories of taxpayers are also eligible for an 'out-of-turn' hearing.

An application requesting for an out-of-turn hearing can be made by the eligible taxpayer (irrespective of whether he has filed the appeal or is responding to the appeal filed with the ITAT by the I-T department) with the ITAT's president, vice-president or senior member. The ITAT may also, of its own accord, take up appeals for hearing on an out-of-turn basis, if considered expedient and necessary.

These provisions are part of the draft rules released on Thursday by a committee that was set up to revisit the existing ITAT rules, which date back to 1963. "Normally, after having filed an appeal, it takes two years for the case to be heard by the ITAT. The proposal to introduce priority hearing, if implemented, will be very helpful especially to senior citizens, salaried and also charitable trusts," says Gautam Nayak, tax partner, CNK & Associates.

The ITAT, which is part of the law ministry, adjudicates I-T disputes and has the final say on matters relating to facts. It is open to both I-T officials and taxpayers to approach the ITAT against an order by the I-T Appellate Commissioners. Given this, ITAT is a crucial institution for taxpayers to seek judicial remedy.

The committee — chaired by Sunil K Yadav, R S Syal, vice-president (ITAT), and Pramod Kumar (ITAT member) — has looked into various aspects during the course of hearing, right from priority hearing, adjournments, e-filing of appeals, submission of additional evidence to digital updates for litigants. Public can send their comments up to June 12.

Keeping abreast of advancements in technology, draft rules provide that orders should be uploaded on the official website within 24 hours of their pronouncement, which will usher in better transparency. Taxpayers can opt to receive orders by email and get text alerts on phones about adjournments and pronouncement of orders.

E-filing of appeals may also be introduced from a date to be notified by the president of the ITAT.

Probably in a bid to clear the spate of pending litigation, the draft rules mention that in the ordinary course, no more than five adjournments shall be given. "In case the ITAT deems it appropriate to grant adjournment thereafter, it may do so on such terms and conditions as it deems fit," cite the draft rules. All adjournment requests are to be filed at least a day in advance by 1.30pm, with the other party also being informed of such request.

According to CAG reports, the number of pending cases were 32,834 as of March 31, 2016, with the amount of I-T dispute aggregating to Rs 1,35,984 crore. In the previous year, the number of pending cases were 37,506 with the amount locked up in litigation running into Rs 1,45,534 crore.

To improve efficiency, appeals will be categorised into those involving adjudication on disputes relating to transfer pricing and international tax, those relating to small cases to be heard by a single member of the ITAT and all other regular appeals. Appeals (other than those eligible for out-of-turn hearing) will be taken up by the ITAT in the order in which these were received in the respective categories. During the course of hearing, additional evidence, including deposition by an expert, will be admitted by the ITAT, if it deems fit.

[The Economic Times]