New Delhi: With a fine for delayed filing kicking in, income tax returns filed at the expiry of the 31 August deadline have gone up by over 70% this year to 5.42 crore from a year ago. Last year, 3.17 crore returns were filed before deadline, said a tax department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. On 31 August itself, 34,95,093 returns were filed when the deadline expired.

The improvement in compliance is on account of gentle and sustained persuasion of potential taxpayers, said the official. “We have been urging people through text messages and emails to file their tax returns on time. Now both return filing as well as tax payment are easy. Taxpayers also get refunds as early as 15 days after return filing," said the official.

Taxpayers can file returns for 2017-18 till March 2019 with a fine. If filed after the 31 August deadline but before the end of December, the fine is 5,000, which will double if filed afterwards till March 2019. It is expected that the total returns filed may go up by the end of the year. During 2017-18, a total of 6.86 crore returns were filed, a more than 25% jump from the 5.48 crore returns filed in the year before. In 2016-17, the year of demonetization, tax return filings rose 18.6%, according to data from the finance ministry. The surge in return filing before deadline this year is across the board including individuals, professionals, partnerships and those paying presumptive tax.

The government has been making efforts to step up the tax base as this could aid in implementing welfare schemes like higher support price for winter crops and health insurance scheme for 100 million poor families, besides considering slashing the rate for taxpayers in the lower tax brackets. During his Independence Day speech on 15 August this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had described tax payment as the most virtuous task of an individual.

For 2018-19, the government has set a direct tax collection target of 11.5 trillion, a jump of 14.6% over the 10 trillion collected last fiscal year. One factor that has helped the government in boosting direct tax revenue is the immense volume of data that is available about business activities after the country adopted the technology-driven goods and services tax in 2017. The income tax department has been mining large amounts of data available about transactions in the economy to identify possible cases of tax evasion as cash deals above 2 lakh on a single day are not allowed now.

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