• Many taxpayers opted to file their tax returns manually rather than get an Aadhaar.
  • Many others filed their returns online early, prior to June 30, when the Aadhaar linkage was not mandatory.
  • The I-T dept’s e-filing portal does not accept returns without Aadhaar

In a quiet display of dissent, numerous taxpayers across the country have opted to file their tax returns manually , via snail-mail, rather than get an Aadhaar card. Many others filed their returns online early , prior to June 30, when the Aadhaar linkage was not mandatory .“Technically you should be able to file online even if you don’t have an Aadhaar card, but the e-filing system does not allow it,“ said documentary filmmaker Rakesh Sharma, who considers the Aadhaar requirement a potential violation of privacy and a possible tool for state sur veillance and data mining.

The income-tax department’s e-filing portal does not accept returns without an Aadhaar or an Aadhaar application number. In some instances, even an application number is being rejected –which according to I-T officials could be owing to an er ror by the tax filer or a temporary technical glitch.

Thus, those without an Aadhaar or its application number are caught in a catch-22 situation, as taxpayers with an income of above Rs 5 lakh have to mandatorily file their income tax returns online. A Bengaluru-based consultant said she and her husband, as well as many of their friends, refused to get the Aadhaar card and filed their returns in early June. “ Aadhaar started off as something optional and we kept reading about data getting stolen. So a lot of us were concerned about giving our biometrics to the private operators given the potential for identity theft.“

She is also livid about the relentless text messages she receives from her bank threatening to freeze her accounts if she does not link them to Aadhaar, despite the fact that this has not yet been mandated. Chennai-based environ mentalist Nityanand Jayaraman, who is filing manual returns, said he has a problem with Aadhaar as he simply doesn’t trust the government. “I do not like the fact that it is bullying people into taking an Aadhaar for everything. If it wants to link Aadhaar with anything, it has to be with voter ID.“

“I am debating whether to snail-mail my returns to the Bengaluru Central Processing Centre or just wait it out until the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court which is currently hearing the matter, passes its order. If they don’t accept my I-T return, then I want a physical confirmation of that,“ said a Mumbai-based media professional.

Section 139AA of the I-T Act has made it mandatory to quote the Aadhaar number or the application number for I-T returns filed on or after July 1, this year. On June 9, the Supreme Court bench upheld this section. As an interim relief, pending hearing of the privacy issues relating to Aadhaar by a constitutional bench, the SC clarified that for those taxpayers who do not have an Aadhaar, their PAN will not be cancelled for the time being. The tax laws had also provided for cancellation of PAN in the absence of intimation of Aadhaar or its application number.

“The SC’s order does not give any leeway to taxpayers for filing of I-T returns without Aadhaar or an enrollment number, post July 1. If they don’t have an Aadhaar, taxpayers should at least obtain an Aadhaar enrolment number,“ a senior Income Tax official said. An exemption from quoting Aadhaar has been provided for in limited cases only , such as for non-residents, foreign citizens, or individuals above 80 years of age. The exemption is also available to those residing in Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Meghalaya.

I-T authorities claim that a manual return for those earning above Rs 5 lakh will be void. “I-T officials are not dutybound to accept manual returns and are unlikely to ac cept them,“ a chartered accountant admitted.

“I am asking my clients to pay any outstanding tax dues and just sit back for the time being. Fortunately , the late filing fee of Rs 10,000 introduced by the budget doesn’t apply to FY 2016-17,“ said another CA.

“Taxpayers could also try approaching the I-T commissioner (or any higher level officer) for acceptance of their manual I-T return. However, there must be a genuine reason for not having enrolled for Aadhaar ­ for instance Aadhaar application made by an aged citizen (exemption is only for those above 80 years) may not have been accepted as his or her biometrics was not legible,“ the CA added.

An advocate offers a ray of hope to those not having an Aadhaar or an application number. According to him, the limited constitutional validity of section 139AA is subject to the final decision of the constitutional bench of the SC. As of now, no penal action, including cancellation of PAN card can take place till the matter is disposed of by the SC. Thus, no I-T return can be rejected for not quoting Aadhaar.

Even if these taxpayers manage to file their return manually, it’s unlikely that they will get a refund, if any is due. For this, the I-T return needs to be processed online.

(With inputs from Chennai)