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MSME body drags centre to court over tax deadlines amid Covid surge

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An industry association and a group of businessmen have dragged the government and tax departments to court for not postponing various compliance deadlines despite the chaos caused by the severe second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A writ petition filed in the Gujarat High Court by the Association of Industries and Institutions, an apex body of small and medium companies, said there is an “emergency-like situation” in the country in the wake of the “extreme spread of coronavirus”.

The association has dragged the Union government, direct tax department, indirect tax department, Employees’ State Insurance Corporation and Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation to court over the extension of due dates.

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The association wants the government to extend the due dates for filing various tax and other filings by about three months. It argued that last year, when the pandemic had erupted and the cases were not as numerous, the Centre had extended various due dates, but the same has not been done this year, despite a massive surge in infections.

The lawyers representing the association said companies will have to face penalties, interest and, in some cases, prosecution leading to jail term, if businesses are unable to comply with the deadlines.

Companies argue that there are practical difficulties in abiding by the deadlines, as several company executives and even their chartered accountants are down with the infection. “Most companies are struggling with the second wave of Covid pandemic and so are their CA firms, advocates and consultants, so abiding by the timelines whether for direct taxes, indirect taxes or other compliances of PF and labour laws would be next to impossible,” said Avinash Poddar, a senior lawyer representing the petitioners.

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The association also demanded that in case the Centre is unable to extend the deadlines, at least the penalties should be waived. Last year, the government extended the deadlines for filing tax returns by three months. The petition said companies are also facing difficulties due to various lockdowns announced by state governments in Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Many businesses are already suffering from a second disruption and acute cash flow issues. Most large firms are somehow managing the situation, but small and medium enterprises have been badly hit, said industry trackers.

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