Section 131 of the Income Tax Act empowers the income tax authorities to conduct inquiries. It provides powers to summon persons / witnesses, examine them under oath, compel production of books of account and documents, and issue commissions. The power of enforcing attendance of a person under this section is the same as available under the Code of Civil Procedure.
Generally it is seen that assessees are represented by their advocates / CAs / authorized representatives during proceedings before the income tax authorities. However, if it is felt that for inquiry in a particular matter, it is essential to examine the concerned person or a witness, then powers under section 131 are required to be invoked.
If summons are issued and served on a person for personal attendance under section 131, it is binding on him to attend in person. He cannot be represented by a lawyer or an authorized representative. Further, a person can also be compelled to produce books of account or documents by issuing a notice under section 131. Non-compliance with the summons / notice issued under section 131 may result in levy of penalty of rupees 10,000 for such a default.
Here it is also important to clarify that an assessing officer can invoke section 131 for making inquiries only in a case where proceedings are pending before him. For example, during the course of ongoing assessment proceedings, the assessing officer can summon a third party for verifying facts presented before him by the assessee. He can also summon the assessee to his office for recording his statement on any of the issues relevant to the assessment. On the other hand, officers of the investigation wing can exercise these powers even if no proceedings are pending with them. They can invoke this section during the course of a search or during a survey for examining any person under oath. During post search inquiry or any other inquiry, the section can be resorted to for summoning persons and recording their statements or for enforcing production of books of account or any other records. Section 131 is thus a very powerful tool available to the income tax authorities in their quest for the truth.