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e filing or e failing

The number of people filing income tax returns online remains unimpressive, thanks to a rigid mindset, lack of access to Internet and skills to compute one’s own tax liability.

business Updated: Jul 30, 2008 00:03 IST
Robbie Corey-Boulet

India may be a global software hub, but when it comes to e-filing tax returns most Indians still shy away from online transactions.

Last year, only 10,500 returns, or roughly 1.5 per cent of the total number of tax assessees, were filed online in Delhi, and it is unlikely that the ratio would increase dramatically this year.

Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (Salary) Lakshmi Prasad, who was overseeing returns filed by salaried individuals at a special I-T camp at New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, said she expects about 20,000 returns would be filed online this year, the deadline for which ends on Thursday.

e-filing is becoming popular, but its usage is limited because of mindset, lack of access to Internet and lack of skills to compute one’s own tax liability.

“It is better if you do it online, but since the reliability factor is less with the government websites, you just don’t know if it will work,” said Gaurav Prakash, a 27-year-old telecom professional who opted for manual filing.

People like Prakash are skeptical because they think the data may get leaked out.

“It’s more of a lack of education, of people not understanding what e-filing is all about,” said Surya Bhatia, a New Delhi-based chartered accountant, who added that some of this concern is misplaced. “I’m not saying the system is foolproof, but the information you share cannot be used against you.”

There were some signs that e-filing is catching on. Nishant Singhal, 21, a trainee at the chartered accountant firm KNA Associates, said roughly 75 per cent of his clients opted to file online. Those that file manually often do not have e-signatures, meaning they would have to file hard copies of their forms within 15 days of uploading an online return anyway.

Singhal cited the ability to avoid long lines as well as file returns around the clock — instead of only between the hours
of 10 am and 5 pm — as benefits of the e-filing system.

That said, the appeal of e-filing is typically limited to those who file returns independently, have access to a computer and are “net savvy,” said Prasad, the tax commissioner.

Only 2.5 per cent of Indians own a computer and less than half have Internet connectivity, according to industry estimates. Many people who do not have Internet-enabled computers would hesitate to use a cyber café or a shared computer at workplace for filing tax returns, Bhatia said.

Moreover, taxpayers opting to file their returns online need access to Internet banking — a requirement that excludes several millions from taking advantage of the system.

(Sandeep Singh in New Delhi also contributed to the story)