Indian Government sprung a surprise on theÂ Corporate market this year by making it mandatory that Annual Corporate and Income Tax returns through the web using Digital Signatures.
ThoughÂ digital signatures came into being six years ago, there was no effort to make use of digital signatures in any of the Government correspondence except the stray incidence of Karnataka Government which has some specific plans.Â In fact, even the officers of the Ministry ofÂ Communication and Technology which controls the regulatory regime of the Digital Society in India do not use digital signatures for their correspondence. Very few people in the Corporate sector understand the use of digital signatures. Many of the Banks and Government departments who use digital certificates for their web servers use certificates issued by certifying authorities not licensed in India.
When there is so much ignorance and apathy about the use of digital signatures, it was nothing short of a miracle that suddenly first the Ministry of Company AffairsÂ and then the Ministry of Finance thought it fit to make digital signatures mandatory for MCA-21 returns and for filing of IT returns by Companies.
This meant that over 7 lakh Companies in India had to equip themselves with digital signing capability overnight and comply with the provision. This would require about three directors per company on an average to obtain digital certificates from a licensed certifying authority paying around Rs 1000 per year per certificate. This would translate to over Rs 20 billion per annum in terms of business which only four Indian companies are licensed to handle. ..A real bonanza doled out by the Government.
The irregularities that abound in the issue of digital certificates clearly indicate that the market is not yet ready for this mandatory move of the Government. In fact even the websites of the Government agencies which are meant to receive the digitally signed returns are not ready and users are unable to log in and file the returns.
Perhaps it was the persuasion from the Certifying Authorities who saw a gold mine in this Government order that made the Government take the decision in a hurryâ€¦.Was it the Persuasion ? or Pressure? Or.. the noble desire to see that Indians turn digitally savvy overnight?…Or is it the Rs 20 billion per year that is doing the magic?