Impressed by the Gujarat model of Income Tax investigation, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), Delhi, has issued guidelines for all director generals of the income tax investigation department asking them to follow a standard operating procedure that includes certain procedures right from the preparation stage of a search and seizure action till its conclusion.
The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) incorporates best practices in investigation and the initiative to incorporate it was taken by the Gujarat Income Tax Department.
Recently, the I-T Department in Gujarat had detected an alleged black income case of over Rs 300 crore after it raided multiple premises of a prominent real estate player in Rajkot. “During this raid, an official assigned to the investigation met with an accident in Surendranagar while he was travelling from Ahmedabad to Rajkot. He was injured and needed immediate hospitalisation. This is when we realised the need to set up a standard operating procedure. Often investigation officials have to leave at midnight and reach the investigation spot at odd hours. We wanted to reduce the risk involved in this,” said an official from Aayakar Bhavan.
Members of the Joint Council Income Tax Employees Federation and Income Tax Gazetted Officers Association took up the matter and declared that they would not go for any investigation unless they were provided with a set procedure. “The matter was taken up by the Gujarat I-T department and was presented to CBDT, Delhi. Forget about updating the investigation procedure manual, we didn’t even have one in place. All past investigations were carried out without precautions and without considering the safety of officers,” added the official.
After consultation with various stakeholders namely Income Tax Employees’ Federation (ITEF), Income Tax Gazetted Officers’ Association (ITGOA) and Indian Revenue Service (Income Tax), the new 20-pointer guidelines emphasise medical help to officials. They also mention that the control room should ensure adequate medical help in case of any emergency. “This SOP will be life-saving. Even if one life is saved, then our efforts will be worth it,” added the official from the I-T department.
“Up next, we also need an accident policy for undertaking raids. If an official meets with an accident, he should ideally be admitted to a nearby trauma centre; but unless the hospital/centre is included in the I-T department’s approval list, the bill raised by the official is not cleared. This is another glitch that needs to be addressed,” said an official.
The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) includes:
(1) For cases in which reporting is to be done on the previous day of a search, the requisition should preferably be sent to the concerned field formations, giving sufficient time for the officers and officials to report. The reporting of the officers and the officials should be ensured at least by 7:30 pm on the night of the previous day at the designated place of accommodation.
(2) Any long-distance journey by car between 11 pm to 3:30 am may be preferably avoided. If for operational purposes, the same is unavoidable, sufficient time to prepare must be given to staff members participating in the operation.
(3) If the travelling time to the reporting place is more than 6 hours, sufficient time should be given to the concerned officers and officials, so as to enable them to reach the place of accommodation by evening or latest by 9 pm of the previous day.
(4) As far as possible, officers may be requisitioned from field offices (other than Investigation Directorates) of nearby stations to avoid long journeys.
(5) Sufficient vehicles should be arranged for all officials participating in the search and seizure/survey action. Further, the proper fitness of the vehicles must be ensured.
(6) Proper arrangements should be made to freshen up at the place where search action is carried out.
(7) The search kit should invariably contain all prescribed forms, stationery, first aid kit, etc, which should be separately identifiable as the KIT.
(8) Proper briefing should be given to the authorized officers, who in turn should adequately brief the team members.
(9) After the search team strikes the premises if the situation warrants that more manpower is required, then adequate manpower should be deployed as per the requirement of the premises.
(10) If any officer or official has to attend the search duty continuously for a period of more than 3 days, then as far as possible, replacement should be provided after 3 days. In such cases of replacement, the officer/official getting relieved should properly brief the incoming officer/official about all the details of that premise, under intimation to the control room.
(11) Food packets and drinking water should be arranged at the place of search right from the commencement of search till the search is concluded.
(12) The control room should ensure adequate medical help in case of any medical emergency. In case of any accident/mishap, the Control room should be informed immediately, and necessary action must be taken by the control room immediately.
(13) As far as possible, women officers and officials should be deputed mainly in residential premises/ offices.
(14) Proper travel arrangements should be made for lady members of the team. In case of travel beyond city limits/ mofussil areas, a dedicated vehicle should be provided, and the lady members may be accompanied by a male member of the team.
(15) The conducting team and officials manning the control rooms, team leaders and members of the team should be sensitized about the safety and security of women officials. In case of any problem pointed out by lady officers/ officials, same should be dealt with, on priority.
(16) Proper inquiry should be made in case of any grievance arising out of field action raised by women members participating in search action.
(17) After the search is complete, due care should be taken by the conducting team and control room to ensure that all women members reach their homes safely. For this, adequate arrangements for transport should be made beforehand.
(18) All officers and officials may be advised to avoid night journeys between 11pm to 5am to their respective destinations after the search is concluded. Proper arrangement for accommodation, in such cases, for night stay should preferably be provided, along with necessary transportation facility in the morning. Those who travel during the wee hours after the conclusion of the search to reach their destinations will be doing so at their own risk.
(19) Experienced officials of the investigation directorates should be given the responsibility of handling the control room and the search materials should be handed over as per the procedure prescribed in the ‘Search & Seizure’ Manual.
(20) A copy of these instructions should be a part of every kit bag meant for each team participating in the search and seizure/survey action.