NEW DELHI: The income tax department is urging its officials to step up prosecution of “wilful” evaders and non-filers as part of a strategy to plug loopholes and ensure much-needed revenues for the government which is battling an economic slowdown.

The department is also revamping its approach to search and survey operations. Officials are being asked to focus on detection of undisclosed income and assets by working diligently on the evidence gathered and also accessing additional information. The category of non-filers is a key one for tapping unpaid taxes and the department has met with success after launching a drive to detect non-filers of tax returns.

The focus should shift to launching successful prosecution in appropriate cases instead of concentrating only on disclosure of additional income and making recommendations to the assessing officers. A new policy on the issue is expected to be unveiled shortly.

However, the department is making sure that search and seizure operations are handled with utmost care to avoid any controversies. While search and seizure operations are intended to be used “judiciously”, there is an overwhelming view that it’s an effective deterrence tool against tax evasion and for improving compliance.

However, the officials say that the objectives of cutting down evasion and improving compliance would be achieved when search and seizure actions are followed through with “civil and criminal proceedings, levy of due interest and penalties and prosecution of tax evaders expeditiously”.

The Narendra Modi government has promised to transform the image of the tax department and has urged the field officers to ensure that they follow a non-adversarial approach to collecting taxes. Finance minister Arun Jaitley has also asked the officers to deal sternly with tax evaders.

A review by the department of the search and seizure operations has thrown up startling results which has triggered the reworking of strategy by the top officials. According to a tax department discussion document, it is “…necessary to focus on creating effective deterrence in such cases through proper assessments, penalty and prosecution. There is an urgent need to cut down inordinate delays at every level and introducing a system which does not allow shifting of responsibility between the officers conducting the search and those completing the assessments and subsequent actions”.

Some of the suggestions include scrapping the reporting of admission of undisclosed income.