Income-tax officers will soon get hi-tech support in their crusade to enforce tax laws and identify offenders. The I-T department is considering setting up at least three forensic laboratories across India to help its officials deal with evaders—usually white-collar— and who increasingly use sophisticated methods to escape paying tax.
“More and more tax offenders are resorting to the computer to store vital information,” said an official of the government’s revenue department who did not wish to be identified.
“They create hidden files, and transfer sensitive information through the Internet. Since income-tax officials are not trained as software experts, very often, such data gets lost or cannot be recovered during the course of a search operation,” he added.
When faced with such situations, the income-tax department outsources the requirement. Most investigation arms of the government, including the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have their own forensic labs.
During most search operations, income-tax officials do take away the hard disks of any computers found on the premises being raided, but there are times when they do not find anything because they do no know how to look for it. The I-T department is also concerned that the Internet is being used as a communication and money-transfer medium in money laundering activities.
The official said that these issues were discussed in a meeting between finance minister P. Chidambaram and officials of the I-T department.
“One of the proposals is to have a panel of forensic experts who can be contacted by the field officers whenever such searches are to be conducted,” he added. Another official of the tax department said the meeting also discussed strengthening the workforce of the investigation arm, following the Cabinet’s approval to create an additional 7,051 posts in the income-tax department. In the first 11 months of 2006-07, the government’s revenue from income tax paid by individuals and companies has soared to Rs1,64,228 crore, a 38% increase over the corresponding period in 2005-06. According to revenue department officials, individuals account for 27 million people, just around 2.7% of the country’s population.