The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) has further extended due date for filing Income Tax Returns and Audit Reports to October 31st.
The due date for filing of Income Tax Returns and Audit Reports for Assessment Year 2018-19 is 30th September, 2018 for certain categories of taxpayers.
The CBDT had earlier extended the date for filing of Income Tax Returns and various reports of Audit to 15th October 2018.
Upon consideration of representations from various stakeholders, CBDT further extends the ‘due date’ for filing of Income Tax Returns as well as reports of Audit (which were required to be filed by the said specified date) from 15th October, 2018 to 31st October, 2018 in respect of the said categories of taxpayers.
However, as specified in earlier order dated 24.09.2018, assessees filing their return of income within the extended due date shall be liable for levy of interest as per provisions of section 234A of the Income-tax Act, 1961.
India’s capital market regulator has proposed amendments to tighten laws governing auditors and other third-party individuals hired by listed companies for auditing financial results, among other things.
The Kotak Committee, formed to come up with proposals for improving corporate governance, last year recommended that the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) should have clear powers to act against auditors and other third-party individuals or firms with statutory duties under the securities law.
Auditing lapses have caused several frauds to go unnoticed for years and the capital market regulator has had no direct control on the auditing firms.
SEBI has proposed giving the board of directors of the company the authority to take appropriate action after conducting an investigation against the individual or firm that violates any regulations or submits a false certificate or report.
The proposed changes come months after Punjab National Bank, India’s second largest state-run lender, stunned markets after uncovering a $2 billion loan fraud that had gone undetected for years.
Merchant bankers, credit rating agencies, custodians, among others, are registered and regulated by SEBI but chartered accountants, company secretaries, valuers and monitoring agencies do not come under any direct regulators.
The amendments would mean auditors must ensure certificates or reports issued by them are true in all material respects and they must exercise all due care, skill and diligence with respect to all processes involved in issuance of the report or certificate.
The auditors would be responsible to report in writing to the audit committee of the listed company or the compliance officer on any violation of the securities law they noticed.
In January, SEBI barred Price Waterhouse from auditing listed companies in India for two years after an investigation into a nearly decade-old accounting fraud case in a software services company that became India’s biggest corporate scandal.
SEBI has sought feedback and comments on the draft regulations over the next 30 days.
Seeking to crackdown on shell companies, the government has proposed to remove exemption available to firms with tax liability of up to Rs 3,000 from filing I-T returns beginning next fiscal.
The Union Budget 2018-19 has rationalised the I-T Act provision relating to prosecution for failure to furnish returns.
Thus, a managing director or a director in charge of the company during a particular financial year could be liable for prosecution in case of any lapse in filing I-T returns for any financial year beginning April 1.
“The income tax departments would now track investments by these companies. Also, the focus will be on those firms that show less profit and also those who file I-T returns for the first time,” a senior finance ministry official said.
There are around 12 lakh active companies in the country, out of which about 7 lakh are filing their returns, including annual audited report, with the ministry of corporate affairs. Of this, about 3 lakh companies show ‘nil’ income.
The Section 276CC of the Income Tax Act provided that if a person wilfully fails to furnish in due time the return of income, he shall be punishable with imprisonment and fine.
However, no prosecution could be initiated if the tax liability of an assessee does not exceed Rs 3,000.
The government has amended the provision with effect from April 1, 2018 and removed the exemption available to companies.
“In order to prevent abuse of the said proviso by shell companies or by companies holding benami properties, it is proposed to amend the provisions… so as to provide that the said sub-clause shall not apply in respect of a company,” it said.
The official said that as many as 5 lakh are companies not filing returns and they could be a potential source of money laundering. “These could be small firms which are engaged in honest business, but there could be some which are a potential threat. We have to look into the data.”
Nangia & Co Managing Partner Rakesh Nangia said though the amendment has been brought about to prevent abuse by shell companies/benami properties, checks similar to those placed in the law for invoking GAAR, should be in place to avoid genuine hardship.
“Though the taxman may be driven by compulsions to ensure proper tax compliance, care must be taken while taking such action. In most developing countries, prosecution for tax matters is applied only in cases of serious tax frauds and not in general compliance matters,” Nangia said.
The Budget announcement follows the recommendation of the task force on shell companies, which was set up in February last year.
In the government’s fight against black money, shell companies have come to the fore as they are seen as potential for money laundering.
Till the end of December 2017, over 2.26 lakh companies were deregistered by the MCA for various non-compliances and being inactive for long.
Shell companies are characterised by nominal paid-up capital, high reserves and surplus on account of receipt of high share premium, investment in unlisted companies, no dividend income and high cash in hand.
Also, private companies as majority shareholders, low turnover and operating income, nominal expenses, nominal statutory payments and stock in trade, minimum fixed asset are some of the other characteristics.
Since last year, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) — the apex policy making body of the I-T department — has been sharing with the MCA specific information like PAN data of corporates, Income Tax returns (ITRs), audit reports and statement of financial transactions (SFT) received from banks.
The ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) says work has begun for an “early warning system” regarding shell companies.
The term is used to refer to a company without active business operations or much of assets. This by itself isn’t illegitimate but they could be used as a manoeuvre for financial operations of a suspect or illegitimate nature.
Currently, there is no way to check shell companies systemically, an official said. Chartered accountants (CAs) do come out with qualified accounts of such companies but these come in a random way on the ministry’s MCA21 portal. Qualified accounts refer to bits of information about which CAs have doubts or disagreement with the audited entity’s management.
After the hoped-for early warning system comes, qualified accounts would be flagged on the ministry’s portal, helping it and other regulators to check on such entities. “We are yet to work out the nitty gritty of this system but are on the job,” another official said.
He said this would do away with the current system of random inspections to identify such companies. The portal will have filings by CAs in such a way that regulators will be alerted, he said.
Earlier, minister of state for corporate affairs P P Chaudhary had said the government would try to use the information technology tool of artificial intelligence in this regard.
CAs told Business Standard that an early warning system by itself wouldn’t change things by much. There should also be stringent norms to make auditors more independent. One of them said it is a company’s promoters who appoint the auditor, which means the latter does not retain the independence to openly report facts. So, a CA’s appointment would need to move away from promoters.
The ministry had recently issued rules to limit the number of subsidiaries a company may have — no more than two layers. This will apply prospectively but existing companies have to disclose details of their entire list of subsidiaries to the registrar of companies within 150 days. Banks and insurance companies are excluded from this rule.
With no limit on the number of subsidiaries, regulators found it difficult to track illicit transactions.
A multi-agency clampdown has begun on shell companies to tackle the black money menace wherein the role of auditors has come under the scanner for alleged connivance in facilitating illegal transactions.
The auditors’ role is also being looked into for not raising the red flag as several cases have come to the fore, including at listed companies, for alleged mismatch in financial statements, sharp erosion in net worth, siphoning off funds to group and promoter entities, sources said.
Stepping up the vigil, the corporate affairs ministry as well as Sebi and other regulatory authorities are keeping a close tab on activities carried out by shell companies.
Sources said regulatory agencies are examining the role of auditors to ascertain whether they were also involved in suspected illegal activities.
The ministry as well as Sebi are closely looking at the functioning of auditors in various companies, especially those that have not been carrying out business for long. After a detailed analysis, the authorities would decide on the next course of action, sources added.
Auditors, who have greater responsibilities under the Companies Act, 2013, are required to ensure that financial statements of a company are proper and can red flag dubious transactions.
As part of larger efforts to fight illicit fund flows and tax evasion, the ministry has already struck off the names of over two lakh companies from the records and further action is expected.
Besides, Sebi has taken against 331 listed entities that are suspected shell companies. While the watchdog had imposed strict trading restrictions on these scrips, curbs have been eased in some cases after the companies went on appeal against Sebi’s move.
On Tuesday, the government said more than 1.06 lakh directors would be disqualified for their association with shell companies.
The ministry, which is implementing the companies law, has also identified professionals, chartered accountants, company secretaries and cost accountants associated with the defaulting companies.
Besides, such people “involved in illegal activities have been identified in certain cases and the action by professional institutes such as ICAI, ICSI and ICoAI is also being monitored”, an official release said on Tuesday.
Separately, authorities are looking at the possibility of having stricter scrutiny of global auditing firms to make them more accountable with such auditors coming under the lens in various corporate misdoings.
A big area of concern pertains to the big guns seeking to wash off their hands whenever their names crop up in any accounting wrong-doing while their delaying tactics in the name of jurisdiction have also been noticed, an official had said earlier.
While the existing legal framework provides for stringent provisions for auditing activities, there is no specific system in place when it comes to overseas audit firms.
While discussions on having tighter regulations for foreign audit firms are going on, the ministry is already examining the recommendations of the 3-member expert panel on various issues related to audit firms amid concerns over certain practices circumventing regulations.
The expert panel, headed by Teri Chairman Ashok Chawla, had submitted its report in March this year.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has questioned scores of auditors at 27 public sector banks on the process and logic they had used to compute and report write-downs at the lenders, two people close to the development told ET.
The RBI has sought written explanation on differences in the write-down assessments by its own inspectors and those certified by the auditors. A write-down is a reduction in the estimated and nominal value of an asset, and is charged off as a loss to the profit and loss account for the relevant period. In some cases, the RBI has also questioned the provisioning methodology and non-performing asset (NPA) figures arrived at by the auditors at a few public sector banks, sources told ET.
The banking regulator is examining whether auditors at these state-run lenders followed RBI guidelines on write-downs, provisioning and NPAs. “This is part of RBI’s annual assessment. Auditors will have to explain how they provisioned for NPA and how they calculated write-downs,” said a person aware of the matter.
The write-downs, NPA and provisioning figures arrived at by the auditors and RBI inspectors differ by up to 10%.
WRITE-DOWNS & PROVISIONING
According to RBI data, PSU banks in FY17 have written off Rs 81,683 crore against Rs 2.49 lakh crore in the past five years. In a few cases, the audit reports of some of these lenders do not reflect these write-downs, said one of the persons cited above. Most banks do not separately report write-downs in their accounts, combining them often with quarterly provisioning.
Most Indian public sector banks use more than one auditor due to the enormous size of their balance sheets. Most auditors are mid-to-small Indian firms that audit several branches. The 27 public sector banks collectively employ 115 auditors, according to data analysed by the ET Intelligence Group.
According to the people in the know, auditors at State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, Bank of Baroda, Canara Bank, Allahabad Bank and Bank of India (BoI) were sent the show-cause notices about two weeks ago.
ET’s detailed email queries to the regulator and the affected lenders – SBI, PNB, BoB, IDBI, Indian Overseas Bank, Canara Bank, BoI, Oriental Bank of Commerce (OBC) and Allahabad Bank – did not elicit any response.
REGULATOR HAS PRIVILEGED ACCESS’
According to a major bank’s auditor who did not wish to be identified, the differences are not unexpected. “The RBI has access to information an auditor may not. Like, if a loan in bank X has gone toxic, the auditor of bank Y may not know, but the RBI would,” he said. He added that there is a time lapse between auditors preparing an account and the RBI conducting inspections. “What you must look at is the impact on the P&L of a bank due to divergence. In most cases, that is not much,” he said.
To be sure, there may have been ‘technical’ errors in interpreting the writedown rules, resulting in the differences. “There is a direct impact of the new accounting standards on the way write-downs are arrived at,” said a senior executive at a top audit firm. “Under the old accounting system, the rules around write-downs were not as precise, and there is a possibility that some auditors may have ignored this.”
Multipurpose Empanelment Form of ICAI (MEF-ICAI) is an online application, which is meant for allotment of Bank/ Branch Audits to the ICAI Members/ CA Firms.
a) Final Bank Branch Auditors Panel for the FY 2016-17
The ICAI has prepared the “Final Bank Branch Auditors’ Panel of Chartered Accountants/ CA Firms (MEF) for the Financial Year 2016-17” and the same is hosted at MEFICAI website till 20 Jan. 2017. Thereafter the final panel is being sent to RBI.
To view your category and remarks thereof, if any, please click on the relevant interval, as below:
For any other query/ issue, please contact ICAI’s PDC Secretariat on 011-30110444. Also, please visit MEFICAI website for updated/ official version of Draft/ Final Panel.
b) MEF-ICAI Multipurpose Empanelment Form 2016-17
MEF 2016-17 for empanelment of Bank Branch Auditors for FY 2016-17 is hosted at MEFICAI website. MEF 2016-17 is divided into three parts, i.e. i) Part A: For Bank Branch Auditor’s panel ; ii) Part B: For Additional information for Multipurpose Empanelment; and iii) Part C: For panel of Cooperative Societies and Cooperative Banks.
In line with ICAI Notification dt. 7 April, entities are being advised to avail the Multipurpose Empanelment data available with ICAI for allotting various assignments in response to tenders, including for Cooperative Societies. Accordingly PART B & PART C has been included in MEF 2016-17.