By Sonal Srivastava, Amity Law School, Lucknow.

National Judicial Reference System is a pioneering project of the Income Tax Department to streamline its tax litigation system. The project aims at being the comprehensive repository to all Appeals and Judgements related to Direct Taxes in India. It envisages in bringing automation in the working of the judicial wings of the Department and has the facility to help in tracking the appeals in Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT), High Courts and the Supreme Court and to issue alerts and reminders in case of delays in filing appeals.

NJRS is also a knowledge repository that enables the Assessing Officers to be consistent in framing assessment orders due to easy accessibility of judicial information, case laws and judgements thereby helping to improve the quality of work output. It also assists the Departmental Representatives/Counsels in improving the quality of representation before tribunals and courts, thus enhancing the success rate of the department in appeals.

OBJECTIVES OF NJRS

NJRS has the following objectives-

  • To achieve efficiency in the tax litigation system.
  • To ensure expeditious disposal of appeals.
  • To facilitate the recovery by quiet identification, prioritization and disposal of high tax cases.
  • To avoid frivolous appeals on decided issues.
  • To bring uniformity in the stand taken by Income Tax Department on contentious legal issues.
  • To consolidate appeals by bunching similar cases.
  • To develop expertise to defend cases on specific issues.

COMPONENTS OF NJRS

NJRS has two components which are as follows-

  1. APPEALS REPOSITORY AND MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (ARMS) – It is an online repository of all pending appeals at the ITAT, Authority for Advance Ruling (AAR), High Courts and the Supreme Court with relevant documents.

It carries out the following functions-

  • To consolidate database of pending litigation.
  • To ensure monitoring of appeals at each stage.
  • To ensure granularity of data for decision making by CBDT (Central Board of Direct Taxes).
  • To identify the law applicable to litigation.
  • To analyze trends in outcome of appeals.
  • To accelerate the movement of information on litigation to judicial officers.
  • To provide a reliable storage and ready retrieval of appeals documents.
  1. JUDICIAL RESEARCH AND REFERENCE SYSTEM (JRRS) – It is a repository of judicial orders as a single, indexed, searchable, cross linked database of judgements of ITAT, AAR, High Courts and the Supreme Court.

It carries out the following functions-

  • To provide a centralized, indexed and searchable electronic repository of judgements for efficient tax litigation management.
  • To link decisions in decided matters with pending appeals to Income Tax Officers.
  • To provide for intelligent search capabilities to identify issues across cases for improved decision making.
  • To provide issue wise summary of judgements for quick reference.

COURTS/AUTHORITIES COVERED UNDER NJRS

The following courts/authorities are governed by the provisions of NJRS-

  • Income Tax Appellate Tribunal in all 27 cities.
  • All High Courts
  • The Supreme Court of India
  • Authority for Advance Ruling (AAR).

ACTS UNDER WHICH LITIGATION CASES ARE COVERED by NJRS

All appeals and judgements under the following Acts are covered by NJRS-

  • Income Tax Act, 1961
  • Wealth Tax Act, 1957
  • Expenditure Tax Act, 1987
  • Interest Tax Act, 1974 and,
  • Gift Tax Act, 1958

FEATURES OF NJRS

  • A homepage for displaying a consolidated position of litigation in the department and important judgments flagged by users.
  • Dashboard for display of jurisdiction of specific information about cases in various courts and alerts for users about new messages received from other users and also a calendar for display of cases fixed in the various courts on any particular date.
  • Provision to search appeals and judgments database with enhanced search facility, based on key metadata elements and a facility for filtering of search results based on keywords/catchphrases, sections/sub-sections, etc and a function to save searches.
  • Facility to view scanned appeal documents and the related appeal data (metadata) such as key phrases, sections involved etc
  • Workflow for officers of the department engaged in litigation related activities.
  • Facility to research and prepare case notes by providing support to the research by displaying related appeals and judgments.
  • Facility to enter and maintain a case diary for day to day case proceedings and to identify related cases for bunching of appeals by officers engaged in litigation work at the ITAT, High Courts and the Supreme Court.
  • Facility to mark appeals for priority attention.
  • Facility to send messages between various users (primarily between officers engaged in litigation work and those engaged in assessment work).
  • Facility for data analysis and generation of reports based on data contained within the ARMS and JRRS.
  • Facility for users to upload articles on litigation issues and a library of Acts, Circulars, Notifications and other publications for reference.

IMPLEMENTATION APPROACH

The project was implemented through an Implementation Agency engaged through an open competitive bid process in April, 2014. The Implementation Agency was a consortium of a Systems Integrator – NSDL eGovernance Infrastructure Ltd and a company specialized in legal databases – Skorydov Systems Pvt Ltd. The project was implemented on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model. The project leverages upon the advancements in computerization of the registry functions of the Tribunals and Courts achieved under the e-Courts Mission Mode Project taken up under the National e-Governance Plan(NeGP). The unifying factor across these computer systems is the Permanent Account Number (PAN) allocated to identify each taxpayer uniquely.

LOGO OF NJRS

The NJRS logo has been conceived with a view to create a visual perception of knowledge, transparency and reliability. The bold, clean font and the choice of a flat colour scheme using red and black colour creates this presence. The red dot is a specific choice in the design language. As the system is a data recording repository of appeals and judgments, the red dot is a visual cue for the “recording” or assimilation of knowledge. This creates an association with audio visual devices which have a similar red icon for recording information. Finally, black and white colours also represent clarity and eliminate ambiguity, further emphasizing the transparency that this system holds.

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Thus, the National Judicial Reference System is an effective tool in tracking and monitoring the appeals at various stages thereby reducing litigation and disputed tax demand by bunching and targeting of high demand cases. It provides for a comprehensive reference system and a decision support system with an aim to achieve efficiency in the tax litigation processes of the Income Tax Department and the Government of India.