Dialling a WhatsApp group for a tax hearing may sound bizarre, but the goods and services tax (GST) commissionerate in Mumbai has issued guidelines to conduct virtual hearings of all demand notices using video calls on this social-network platform.
The move is aimed at maintaining social-distancing norms amid the coronavirus pandemic, and WhatsApp has been picked because of its reach and popularity, and also besides it provides a secure network with “end to end encryption”.
“Keeping in view the situation arising due to Covid-19, and the necessity to comply with social-distancing norms, it is considered necessary to conduct personal hearings in virtual mode with respect to all demand notices, including pending showcause notices, appeals, etc,” the guidelines issued by the Office of Commissioner of Central Tax and GST (Thane) said.
It added: “WhatsApp video conferencing has been considered as (one) such suitable mode for video conferencing because it also has ‘end to end encryption’ and has a huge reach amongst common people.” This facility will remain till another more secure or easier mode is established, the guidelines said. While other tax departments and zones have begun virtual hearings, this will be the first one to use WhatsApp as a medium.
The Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs (CBIC) recently released guidelines on online hearing under the Customs Act, to be conducted from the adjudicating authority or appellate authority’s office through applications like VIDYO or other secure computer network. Tax consultants have disapproved of WhatsApp hearings, arguing that they are not suitable from the point of view of, apart from other things, data security and the recording facility not being available.
Rajat Mohan, partner, AMRG Associates, said personal hearings for adjudication under GST laws through WhatsApp indicated the absence of an appropriate digital platform with the tax authorities.