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Finance Minister outlines measures to 'improve governance'

Monday February 28, 2011 08:01:12 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: With the government buffeted by corruption scandals and charges of "governance deficit", Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee sought to address this issue Monday in his budget speech on what he said were measures being taken "for improving governance".

He said a Group of Ministers (GoM), established to suggest ways of tackling corruption, will submit its report soon. Mukherjee listed several other steps, including the Unique Identity scheme and enhancement of IT infrastructure for better delivery of services to the people.

"The GoM has been tasked with addressing issues relating to state funding of elections, speedier processing of corruption cases of public servants, transparency in public procurement and contracts, discretionary powers of Central ministers and competitive system for exploiting natural resources", Mukherjee said.

"The group (which is headed by Mukherjee himself) will make its recommendations in a time bound manner," he added.

Mukherjee devoted three pages of his 33-page budget speech to list his measures to improve governance.

He said from October, one million Aaadhaar numbers under the Unique Identity (UID) Mission, will be generated daily. So far, 20 lakh Aadhaar numbers have been generated.

"The stage is now set for realising the potential of Aadhaar for improving service delivery, accountability and transparency in governance of various schemes," he said.

The finance minister proposed a "new simplified form Sugam to reduce the compliance burden of small taxpayers, who fall within the scope of presumptive taxation."

He said a new bill to amend the Indian Stamp Act, required in property transactions, will be introduced shortly.

"With the development of the economy, the need to review the provisions of the Indian Stamp Act, 1899 has been felt over the years," Mukherjee added.

He said the government planned to launch a new scheme, with an outlay of Rs.300 crore, to provide assistance to states to modernise their stamp and registration administration and to roll out e-stamping in all the districts in the next three years.

"Five years ago, we took an initiative to introduce a modern and people-friendly e-stamping facility in the country. Only six States have introduced this system so far," he recalled.

Mukherjee said a "robust IT infrastructure is the backbone of an efficient tax administration". He said the IT systems will be used by the Central Boards of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and Excise and Customs (CBEC) widely, including:

- The on-line preparation and e-filing of income tax returns, e-payment of taxes through 32 agency banks, facility for electronic clearing of refunds directly in taxpayers' bank accounts and electronic filing of tax returns.

- The Centralized Processing Centre (CPC) at Bangalore has increased its daily processing capacity from 20,000 to 1.5 lakh returns in 2010-11. Two more CPCs will become operational in Manesar and Pune by May and a fourth one will come up in Kolkata after a few months.

- With the completion of its IT Consolidation Project, CBEC can now centrally host its key applications in customs, central excise and service tax.

Mukherjee said three pilot projects of Aaykar Seva Kendras (ASKs) or income tax assistance centre, "have come of age". Eight more ASKs will be commissioned this financial year and another 50 ASKs will be set up in the next fiscal.

Saying that "the electronic filing of tax deduction at source (TDS) statements has stabilized", he said the board shall soon notify a category of salaried taxpayers who will not be required to file a return of income.

He said the CBDT will provide a separate web-based facility to enable a direct, stand-alone interface for taxpayers with the income tax department so that they can report and track the resolution of their refunds and credit for prepaid taxes.

He said the already announced projects of computerization of commercial taxes in states will allow states to align with the roll out of general sales tax (GST). Several states have already started accepting electronic tax returns and issuing forms required for inter-state trade,

The increase in scope of cases admitted by the settlement commissions has provided relief to several taxpayers. Three more benches of the commission are being set up.

In keeping with the national litigation policy, several steps have been initiated for reducing litigation on tax matters, he said.

Mukherjee said the government has set up a performance monitoring and evaluation system (PMES) to assess the effectiveness of government departments.

The PMES involves preparation of a results framework document (RFD) by each department, highlighting its objectives and priorities for the financial year and achievements against pre-specified targets at the end of the year,the minister said.

This document would be available for public information on the departmental websites.








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