Centre plans sharper income tax scrutiny on rich farmers

Updated on Apr 08, 2022 04:48 AM IST

Super-rich farmers will face stricter scrutiny by tax authorities, who will comb through details of agricultural income — tax-free under the law — in jurisdictions where farm income exceeds a threshold of ₹10 lakh a year, the finance ministry said in a response to questions to the parliamentary committee.

One such case involved tax exemption of farm income of <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>1.09 crore as proceeds from the sale of farmland in Chhattisgarh.
One such case involved tax exemption of farm income of 1.09 crore as proceeds from the sale of farmland in Chhattisgarh.

Dodging tax by passing off earnings as agricultural income is set to get tougher as robust checks are being introduced, the government has told Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, which pointed to several lapses in granting blanket exemptions.

Super-rich farmers will face stricter scrutiny by tax authorities, who will comb through details of agricultural income — tax-free under the law — in jurisdictions where farm income exceeds a threshold of 10 lakh a year, the finance ministry said in a response to questions to the parliamentary committee.

In about 22.5% of cases, authorities approved tax-free claims without proper assessment and verification of documents, allowing scope for evasion of taxes, the committee said.

The panel released its 49th report, “Assessment related to Agricultural Income” on Tuesday. It is based on a report by the Auditor and Comptroller General of India.

One such case involved tax exemption of farm income of 1.09 crore as proceeds from the sale of farmland in Chhattisgarh.

Pointing to lapses, the parliamentary panel said in the above instance, that authorities had neither vetted “documents” that support a tax waiver in “assessment records”, nor were they “discussed in the assessment order”.

Under section 10(1) of the Income Tax Act, 1961, agricultural income is exempted from tax. Any proceeds from rent, revenue or transfer of agricultural land and incomes from farming are considered as agricultural income under the law.

The income tax department said it did not have sufficient manpower to check all cases of fraud in all its jurisdictions, known as commissionerates.

To overcome this, the finance ministry has devised its own system to directly scrutinise tax-free claims in cases where agricultural income is shown to exceed 10 lakh, the parliamentary panel was told.

“The mere mention of a tax on agriculture scares politicians. While a majority of farmers are poor and should be granted exemption, there’s no reason why big farmers should not be taxed,” said Naval Kishore Sharma, a former income-tax department official.

If the top 0.04% of large farmer households as well as farm companies, at the top 30% bracket, are to be taxed for farm income, then annual tax gains of up to 50,000 crore can be achieved, according to a paper by the erstwhile Planning Commission.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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