Don’t go, I was told. Don’t – under any circumstances – go. He will grill you, he will bake you, he will boil you. He will tear you limb from limb and feed you to the wolves. At the very least, he will reduce you to tears. In the worst case, he will completely destroy you and several of your future unborn generations.
They were not talking about a meeting with Lord Voldemort – only the friendly neighbourhood income tax officer. There were some questionable (objectionable?) transactions in my tax return of some years ago, and I had been summoned for a hearing.
All the dire warnings notwithstanding, I was determined to go. I wanted my tax consultant to represent me (these folks know the rules and guidelines, so they can hold their own – or so I hope; that’s what I pay them for anyway), but I wanted to be present at the hearing too.
There were several good (and not so good) reasons for my obstinacy. The first and strongest was that nobody knew the facts of the case as well as I did. My current taxman was not the one who handled that year’s tax return and he had only the vaguest notion of the transactions in question.
Then, everyone told me that a demand for an under-the-table payment was inevitable and inescapable, even if there was absolutely nothing wrong with my tax return. This I wanted to avoid at any cost and I felt I’d be in a better position to do so if I were present in person. More realistic and less idealistic persons such as tax consultants tend to take a less adamant stance on the payment or nonpayment of bribes.
Finally – the not-so-good reason for being there in person – was simply because I wanted to face the lion in his den; I didn’t want to chicken out, specially not on account of being a woman, or because I might be reduced to tears.
So, I went. I went determined to face the onslaught, retain my composure, and hold back the tears, if any, till I was safely home again.
And, as has happened so often in the past, I came back pleasantly surprised, relieved, and with my faith in human nature vindicated yet again.
The ITO (Income Tax Officer) saw us on time, and even had my file on his table. He went through the return methodically and patiently. He did not once try to badger me or insinuate any wrong-doing but was matter-of-fact and efficient. He looked through all the supporting documents, asked for and accepted my explanations on a number of points, demanded a couple of clarifications that we have to get back to him on, then updated his notes of the case in a neutral and factual tone and got me to sign everything. It took a little under two hours. It was as straightforward as a corporate audit and there was not a hint of any expectation of payment of any kind.
I don’t know whether this particular ITO is specially honest or corrupt. But he hasn’t made any demands of me yet, and it looks like he might not. This might be because my paperwork is exceptionally watertight, or it might be because the system is not quite as rotten as everyone says it is. We have too few experiences of this sort, to draw any real conclusions. All I can say based on this one and only experience is that, it was not nearly as bad as I was told it would be. All the same, I cannot be too sure of anything till the judgment is passed and the case closed. Let’s hope that happens soon.