The government’s plan to use data obtained from the Goods and Services Tax (GST) filings to track those who are escaping income tax is one more step towards pinning down the tax evaders. For the past two years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been tightening the noose around tax evaders. The government’s various steps are likely to show visible results next year. 2018 may well turn out to be the year of the taxman when tax evasion will become nearly impossible.
The government wants to create a database whereby income of companies and their promoters could be matched with that of the GST returns filed. This is the first time the government would be tallying indirect tax data with income tax filings in such a big way. Unlike the earlier tax regime, GST leaves a trail, especially for the business of size. Collating this data trail with income tax will make it hard to under-report income or exaggerate expenses.
According to experts, data analytics can establish linkages between people, their income and investments and can raise red flags. By using advance tools to scrutinise both structured and unstructured data, the government can analyse and establish relationships between different entities or people going several levels deep, based on different sets of data such as addresses, phone calls, social media interactions, travel trends and I-T returns.
Demonetisation throwing up huge data on bank deposits gave the government an opportunity to apply data analytics to scan tax irregularities. It can even track your online behaviour. Ever wondered how websites show you ads that match your interests? They track your searches and behaviour on Internet. Financial data can also come under a similar but closer scrutiny if data analytics is deployed to detect tax discrepancies. Robo-audits—or computers comparing your tax information with third-party data—can bring almost every single taxpayer under scrutiny. If you post a picture of your shiny new car on social media, be prepared to answer the taxman. With its ‘Project Insight’, the tax department can know more about your expenditure than you think. Project Insight uses data analytics to glean information from social media sites to find mismatches between spending and declared income.
Last year, the tax department signed a pact with L&T Infotech for implementation of Project Insight, which is designed to strengthen the non-intrusive information-driven approach for improving tax compliance.
The government is even bringing so-called “safe methods to evade taxes’ under scrutiny. For example, agricultural income is exempt from tax in India, but many times people use this exemption to convert black money into white. Some land-owners claim tax exemption on the basis of fake payment slips from vendors, thus proving that they had farmed the land before selling it.
But now income tax department has a very effective way to find out such tax evaders. The department accesses satellite imagery from Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) of the piece of land for specific time periods and if there are no standing crops in that period, it is proved that the assessee is trying to avoid taxes.
Use of technology to mine and analyse huge caches of data generated by demonetisation, GST filings and internet trails will leave little space for anyone to evade taxes. As government’s data analytics drive started showing results next year, income tax will become an inescapable certainty.