The goods and services tax (GST) law has inherited many attributes from its legacy laws such as excise duty, value-added tax (VAT) and service tax. One of them was the adjudication process or proceedings. Summons are integral to any adjudication process under any law, including GST.
Meaning of Summons Under GST
Summons refers to a procedure where an officer calls upon or demands the attendance or presence of a person, whether a taxpayer or not. Any inquiry begins with a summons, and a detailed provision is laid down under Section 70 of the CGST Act.
The provisions state that officer shall have the power to summon the attendance of a person to provide evidence, submit documents or for inquiry. The powers of the Civil Court are vested with such officers under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CCP). They have the effect of judicial proceedings.
Consequences Of Not Addressing GST Summons
So, any person who an officer summons is obligated to appear before such an officer. Any failure can lead to prosecution, as given in Sections 172 and 174 of the Indian Penal Code, along with a charge of a penalty of Rs 25,000 under the GST law. Hence, no person must miss addressing summons, whether they are GST-registered persons or not.
Commoners’ Checklist For Ensuring Summons Is Valid
When you receive a summons from a GST officer, check if it contains the computer-generated document identification number (DIN). The language of summons must be civil, along with reasons for the issue, as per the notified format given in the CBIC’s Instruction Instruction No. 03/2022-23[GST-INV], issued in August 2022. Further, the instructions provide grounds for ensuring that summons is valid, as follows-
* Summons must be issued in written format with reasons.
* Prior permission of officers (Deputy or Assistant Commissioner rank or above) is needed for superintendents to issue summons under the GST law. If it were not possible, oral permission or a telephonic record would work, which is later translated into a written form.
* The offender’s name must be mentioned on the summons, except it hampers the investigation. It will allow the recipient to get context and know their capacity, whether as accused, co-accused or witness.
* No summons can be issued if statutory documents are already available online on the GST portal.
* Officers cannot issue summons to senior management of companies, such as the CMD, MD, CEO or CFO, unless there are clear indications from the investigation that they have been involved in any decision-making that may have led to the contravention of GST law.
* Where summons was not serviced, the officer must refrain from issuing summons repeatedly and is advised to only issue up to three at regular intervals. However, there is no restriction on the upper limit on the number of times to issue summons under the law.
Actions After Receiving A Summons From GST Officers
Suppose you receive a summons under the GST law. In that case, you must appear before the summoning officer on the date and time specified in the summons. You must provide the necessary details and supporting documents called for. Failure can attract a penalty and may call for prosecution, as detailed in the previous section.
An exception is granted to women who traditionally do not appear in public and privileged persons as stated under Sections 132 and 133 of the CCP, 1908. So, such persons need not address the summons.
When you attend a summons, ensure that the summoning officer is present. Any absence must have been informed to you in advance, either by writing or orally.
With GST in its fifth year, the officers have been tasked to look for any tax evasions based on the previously filed returns, especially 2017-18 and 2018-19. Hence, there are more and more cases of evasion coming to the limelight in recent times. Since summons is the starting point in investigations or inquiries, one must carefully attend to them to avoid unnecessary legal complications.
(The author is the founder and CEO of Clear, previously known as ClearTax)
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