NEW DELHI: The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has protested with the finance ministry against the Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN), a special purpose vehicle majority owned by private companies, refusing to give access to taxpayers data on its network for scrutiny and audit.
The GSTN is a private limited company floated to aid the rollout of the new indirect tax regime. The company will provide information technology support to all stakeholders for smooth implementation of the new taxation regime across the country and will be the repository of all information related to taxation and entities registered under GST.
The majority (51%) shareholding in the firm is with private entities including HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and LIC among others. The central government, jointly with state governments and Union Territories, own 49% in the company .
The federal auditor has asked the finance ministry to give it access to GSTN’s data network after the latter refused to allow the CAG on the ground that it was a non-government company and the auditor could not exercise the same rights as applicable for public enterprises.
The GSTN also argued that it was just a “pass through portal“ and that the CAG must approach the Central Board of Excise and Customs and states which would have original data filed by taxpayers.
Rejecting GSTN’s contention, the federal auditor said the source of all taxpayers’ data in the GST regime would be with GSTN, `being the primary location’ where the data is created. “It is from here that the data is selectively pushed to CBEC and states. It is therefore essential for the CAG to access the data lying at the primary source for performing its constitutional mandate,“ the auditor said.
The CAG also contended that the government had “strategic control“ in GSTN irrespective of the shareholding pattern. The SPV is performing a part of the statutory function pertaining to revenue collection on behalf of the Centre and states and it could not refuse to give access to information to the auditor.
“This has to be viewed as GSTN performing a part of the statutory functions pertaining to revenue collection on behalf of the Centre and states,“ the CAG said.
The auditor has requested the ministry to ensure that it gets access to data maintained on the GSTN portal as well as to its application software, the modalities of which could be worked out later.