The I-T department slaps notices on Indian startups asking for their investor’s identity and last three years’ ITRs to verify their creditworthiness and genuineness of the transactions. Ashneer Grover jumped on X to question the pragmatism of this notice.
The ITR notices to Indian startups since earlier this year continue to create uncertainty and anxiety for the startups, making it difficult for them to raise funding. The turmoil started following the Income Tax Return (ITR) notices that were sent, under Section 68 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, to various startups earlier this year asking for the ITRs of the last three years of their investors and shareholders. The Income Tax Department slapped the notices to seek information about the creditworthiness of their investors and shareholders to verify whether the amount invested aligns with the income declared by them.
I-T Department’s Notice to Startups
The I-T department has been sending these notices to startups that have raised large amounts of money from angel investors or venture capital firms. The I-T department is concerned that some of these investments may be disguised as loans and that the startups may be avoiding paying taxes on the interest income.
Ashneer Grover’s Concerns and Questions
Ashneer Grover, former Co-Founder, and Managing Director of BharatPe, took his concern to X to ridicule and raise questions on the grounds on which the notices are being sent. He acknowledged that in the last month, several startups, including some under his portfolio as well, have received the ITR notices seeking the shareholder’s information.
He said, “In the last 1 month, a number of startups (a few in my portfolio as well) have received Income Tax notices asking to furnish information about shareholders.”
Grover even raised questions on how and why would a startup have their shareholders’ last three years’ ITR details and why would the shareholder or individual share the same with a private company.
He said, “Bahut interesting hai (It is very interesting) - they are asking start-up companies to furnish 3 year ITR of all shareholders. 1) How and why will companies have ITR of shareholders? 2) Why would a shareholder/individual share their ITR with a private company?”
I-T Department’s Clarification
Replying to Grover’s post, the I-T department clarified that the notices were sent as per Section 68 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, when being asked by an Assessing Officer (AO), it is the responsibility of the company to provide the required information about their investor, their creditworthiness and their legitimacy.
His post also contained an image of the notice issued under Section 142(1) of the Income-Tax Act, 1961 which gives the Assessing Officers (AOs) the power to seek data from those filing the ITRs.
It reads, “Provide documentary evidence to substantiate the identity and ITR of last three years of shareholders to substantiate creditworthiness (of) the shareholders as well as the proof of the genuineness of the transaction in respect of fresh credit of the share capital/premium account,”
The reply from the I-T department on X reads, “Section 68 of Income-tax Act, 1961 (the Act) under which the AO has made the enquiry about the creditworthiness of the shareholder/investor, places the initial onus on the assessee-company to prove the following: the identity of the investor, the creditworthiness of the investor and genuineness of the transaction”
“Finance Act, 2012 mandated that the nature and source of any sum credited as share capital, share premium, etc., in the books of a closely held company (excluding Venture Capital Fund or a Venture Capital Company registered with SEBI) shall be treated as explained u/s 68 only if the source of funds from a resident shareholder is also explained by the investor,” the I-T department added.
The I-T department also mentioned that in this case the notices are sent as the AO has sought to assess the genuineness of the transaction and source of investment by the shareholder or investor. This is to be done to verify if the amount invested is commensurate with the income declared in the ITR of the investor.
However, it was also mentioned by the I-T department that the companies have the liberty to share the PANs of their investors instead, for verification.
“This has been the practice,” the I-T department added.
Disagreements and Criticism From Investors
PTI reported that Mohandas Rai, Co-founder, of Infosys, who is also an investor, posted on X, tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Grover’s initial post, to say it was “misleading”. He also added, “Sir tax terrorism is increasing! This is against what you have stood for. Please intervene.”
In the same post, he also tagged a multitude of politicians and ministers, including Tejasvi Surya, MP and BJP Yuva Morcha National President, and PC Mohan, BJP’s Bengaluru Central MP.
In response to the clarification issued by the I-T department, stating that companies have the option to furnish their investor’s PANs as an alternative to their last three years’ ITRs, Rai expressed his disagreement, condemning it - “again this is misleading.” He also tagged the Union Ministry of Finance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in his response, which was later reposted by Grover on X.
"Asking for the PAN is the law. But how can you also ask for 3-year tax returns of the investor from the startup? Does the law permit this? @IncomeTaxIndia itself says that Pan is sufficient. Why this overreach?” Rai asked.