Standard Operating Procedure for Hearings through Video Conferencing

 

 

AUTHORITY FOR ADVANCE RULING

MUMBAI BENCH

5th Floor, Hoechst House,

193, V.K. Shah Marg, Nariman Point,

Mumbai-400021.

Email: secy.aarit@gov.in

 

Date : 1st December, 2020

 

 

STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE FOR (a) AUTHORISED REPRESENTATIVES / PARTY-IN-PERSON (b) INCOME TAX DEPARTMENTAL REPRESENTATIVES – FOR HEARING OF MATTERS THROUGH VIDEO CONFERENCING BEFORE THE AUTHORITY FOR ADVANCE RULINGS, MUMBAI BENCH-Reg.

 

 

Background:

The hearings in cases before the Authority for Advance Rulings, Mumbai bench, shall resume shortly, pursuant to the recent appointment of Shri Kishore Vyavahare (Member Revenue) as Vice Chairman [officiating] . Accordingly, the Bench would comprise of following members –

  • Shri Kishore Kumar Vyavahare [Vice Chairman and Member Revenue]
  • Shri Inder Malhotra [Member Law]

In the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is necessary to take utmost precautionary measures for hearing the applications pending for admission under section 245R(2) and / or for ruling under section 245R(4). Hence, the Principal  Bench of the Authority has been pleased to direct that all the constituted benches of  the Authority shall henceforth hear all such matters only through Virtual Court, with immediate effect. Accordingly, keeping in mind the procedures for conducting virtual court hearings evolved by various Courts, the modalities and Standard Operating Procedures for hearing the matters in all the benches of AAR have been drawn up, which are as under :

 

General:

  1. The hearing of all applications for admission under section 245R(2) of the Income-tax Act, 1961 and hearing of cases for ruling under section 245R(4) of the Income-tax Act, 1961 shall be heard through the mode of Video Conferencing through a platform having security features including the end-to-end encryption, ease of use and the operating environment of the AAR. To begin with Cisco Webex / Google Meet has been considered as the Video Conference platform.

Exceptions :

  1. The norm shall be that, no physical hearing of the applications for admission u/s 245R(2) will be allowed. The hearing for the cases for final ruling u/s 245R(4) will also be preferred through virtual mode. However, if in any case the applicant and the Revenue prefer hearing in physical mode, they may make a request accordingly giving the reason, which will be considered and decided by the Bench. In the physical hearing of cases on merit under section 245R(4) of the Income-tax Act as permitted, only two persons from the applicant side and two representatives from the Revenue will be allowed to be present inside the Courtroom, so that the physical distancing norms are complied with. In exceptional cases upon receipt of prior application explaining reasons, more than 2 persons may be permitted at the discretion of the Bench. It may be noted that wearing of mask, frequent use of hand sanitizer and maintaining physical distancing norms is mandatory for all entering into the Courtroom. The additional written submissions if any that are required /desired to be handed over to the Members should be filed with the office of the Authority atleast a day or two in advance and no submissions should be sought to be handed over in the Courtroom. It should also be ensured that all submissions are duly page numbered and Indexed.  AR/DR The process of hearing shall be as per Rule 16 and 17 of the AAR (Procedure) Rules, 1996.

PROCEDURE FOR E-HEARING

 

  1. An Invitation link and Meeting ID for appearance and viewing, as the case may be, will be sent by the Secretariat to the given Mobile number of the AR/DR/Applicant (by SMS/WhatsApp message) at least a day before the scheduled hearing. Please note that each of the links so sent to any device is required to be unique and, therefore, AR/DR/Applicant-in person may not share or forward such link(s) to any other device nor shall they enable others to join the hearing through video conference.

 

3.1       Only the AR/DR/Applicant-in-person are permitted to participate in the Virtual Court proceedings through Video Conference.

 

3.2       For the efficient and smooth functioning of the Virtual Court Proceedings, AR/DR/Applicant-in-person are advised to secure well-in-advance, a desktop or laptop with uninterrupted power supply, video camera, microphones & speakers and display unit or a mobile device, like mobile phone or tablet with the required battery backup; compatible sitting arrangements ensuring privacy, availability of adequate lighting and insulations, proper acoustics, as far as possible.  In case of use of mobile phones, utmost care should be taken to ensure that there is no interruption of the Virtual Court Proceedings due to incoming calls.

 

3.3       The seamless conduct of the Virtual Court Proceedings is obviously dependent upon and subject to the connectivity [signal-strength/bandwidth] available at the end of the remote user(s). The AR/DR/Applicant-in-person joining a video-conference hearing shall ensure that robust connectivity and bandwidth are available at their end. In this regard, Advocates/Parties-in-person are advised to use broadband connection of minimum 20 mbps/dedicated 4G data connection. Further, AR/DR/Assessee-in-person may also ensure that no other device or application is connected to using the bandwidth when the hearing by Video Conferencing is in progress on their computer (preferable), mobile or any other device.

 

3.4       Care must be taken to see that there is no interruption to the proceedings due to the background noise from any source.

 

3.5       AR/DR/Applicant-in-person are required to  enter the virtual court i.e  appear in the video conference, in the dress/attire prescribed for or befitting the dignity and majesty of the judicial proceedings, and the Dress Regulations prescribed in Rule 29 of the Authority for Advance Ruling (Procedure) Rules, 1996 should be adhered to.

 

3.6       The AR/Applicant  of the case listed at Sr.no.1 of the daily cause list should ensure log in for joining the Virtual Court at 10.45 a.m. The Authority reserves the right to regulate the entry of the AR/DR/Applicant-in-person into the Virtual Court Room and, in principle it is decided to allow the entry of the AR/DR/Applicant-in-person of two cases immediately following the case-in-progress in the ‘waiting room’ facility on the virtual hall. As and when the matters in the cause list move forward, the AR/DR/Applicant-in-person of the subsequent cases will be allowed to join in the court hall. This will ensure that proceedings are smooth and also in camera.

 

3.7       Request for adjournment of the Scheduled hearing should be made in advance by email to the Authority and in case of genuine exigency necessitating adjournment on the date of hearing, should not be later than 10.00 a.m IST, through email communication addressed to the Authority.

 

3.8       Upon conclusion of the hearing conducted through Video Conferencing, the AR/Applicant/DR in person is required to email the  gist of their oral arguments in paper book form alongwith copy of judicial precedents / other documents relied upon, to bring on record the oral submissions made during the hearing in Virtual Court. The said email should be submitted on or before 11.00 p.m (IST) on the same day. It is also requested all such submissions should be page numbered and indexed for ease of reference.

 

3.9       Where the Applicant desires anonymising or masking of its name in any publication of the Ruling the same shall be considered in the light of Rule 25 of the Authority for Advance Rulings (Procedure) Rules, 1996, only if the request has been made either in the oral submissions during the virtual hearing or duly in writing to the authority at or before the conclusion of the hearing.

 

3.10     Upon conclusion of hearing, each of the authorised representative who participated in any of the hearings should file an affidavit(s) confirming his/ her identity with the support of contemporaneous documentary proof of identity. The AR(s) should  also record in the affidavit the fact of participation in the hearing(s) with reference to the name and identity of the person who issued the power of attorney, case number , name of applicant and the date(s) on which he/she  made representations by participation in the Virtual hearings.

 

  1. PROTOCOL TO BE OBSERVED DURING THE HEARING IN VIRTUAL COURT ROOM

On entering the Virtual Court Room, the AR/DR/Applicant-in-person are required to follow the following protocol for the smooth, efficient and dignified conduct of proceedings.

4.1       They shall ensure that the Microphone (mic) is in mute mode till such time as required to make submission(s); thus, when one party is making submissions, it is imperative that all other participants shall keep their respective mic muted, failing which the possibility of mic catching audio feed from the speakers and creating ‘echo/noise disturbance’ would become very high and may disturb the Virtual Court Proceedings. It is strongly advised that ARs/Parties-in-person should join the Virtual Court Proceedings from a single device as joining the Virtual Court Room from two or more devices from one location will cause echo and create disturbance in the Virtual Court Proceeding.

4.2       Simultaneous making of arguments by both parties should be strictly avoided at any time. Either party may indicate a requirement to speak/submit by asking for permission from Hon’ble Bench, by raising a hand. Once permitted by the Senior Member of the Bench, the party may ‘unmute’ the mic and thereafter make submissions.

4.3       It may be ensured that the mobile phones are either switched off or kept on vibrate or silent mode, and TV sets, radio, etc. Are switched off, lest they may cause disturbance. Further, individual greetings (one-to-one) and cross-talk between the AR/DR/Applicant-in-person at the commencement or during the proceedings are to be strictly avoided. During the Court Proceedings, the participants are expected to cooperate with the officials by complying with the suggestions extended from time to time to meet any particular exigency.

4.4       When the case is called, the arguing counsel shall introduce himself/herself to the Hon’ble Bench and thereafter, with the permission of the Hon’ble Bench, make submissions. On completion of the submissions and/or when the Hon’ble Bench requires or when a query is put to the arguing counsel, he shall at once ‘mute’ the mic of the respective device. Only with the permission of the hon’ble Senior Member of the Bench, the AR/DR/Applicant-in-person may ‘unmute’ the mic of the device to resume his submissions. Otherwise, the mic must be kept on ‘mute’ mode only.

4.5       AR/DR/Assessee-in-person shall remember that since they are participating in COURT PROCEEDINGS, it is expected that they would not resort to any indecorous conduct or comment.

4.6       Further, since the recording/copying/storing and/or broadcasting, by any means, of the hearings and proceedings before the Bench is not permissible, all the stakeholders shall ensure that the proceedings by Video Conference are neither recorded/stored nor broadcast, in any manner whatsoever.

4.7       AR/DR/Assessee-in-person are required to stay online till the hearing in their matter is announced to be concluded by the Senior Member of the Bench, and thereafter the AR/DR/Applicant-in-person may disconnect from Video Conference, or the Bench Official/Host will disconnect them.

4.8       Upon publication of the cause-list, the Bench may call any party and require to test the device or its connectivity, and every such party is required to cooperate with such staff/official and abide by the instructions given, so that the hearing by Video Conference may be smoothly conducted.

  1. For any related queries, the parties may contact the following :

Mumbai Bench : Shri Sridhar G. Menon, Jt.C.I.T  Mobile No. 9969233503  [Email: secy.aarit@gov.in]

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