IHC bars blocking of non-filers' SIMs till 27th

Lawyer tells IHC that move unconstitutional


Our Correspondent May 14, 2024

ISLAMABAD:

The Islamabad High Court on Tuesday temporarily restrained the government from blocking the mobile phone SIMs of non-filers till May 27.

Hearing a petition filed by a private telecom operator, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq issued notices to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), and other parties seeking their response.
Last week, the telecom operators after several deliberations with the FBR were reported to have agreed to initiate the manual blocking process of the SIMs of non-filers in small batches -- of 5,000 each -- until their systems were fully equipped to automate it.

On April 30, the FBR issued the Income Tax General Order (ITGO) to disable the mobile phone SIMs of 506,671 individuals, who were liable to file their returns for 2023.

Advocate Salman Akram Raja appeared in court on behalf of the petitioner and argued that the amendment to the law violated the fundamental right to business freedom enshrined in Article 18 of the Constitution.

He further argued that the telecom operators would face a loss of Rs1 billion annually if more than 500,000 SIMs were blocked.

Read FBR proposes charging non-filers Rs90 out of every Rs100 mobile recharge

The court after hearing his arguments issued the notices and adjourned the proceedings, while prohibiting the blocking of the SIMs till May 27.

Earlier, it was reported that the FBR had sent messages to about 5,000 individuals, warning them that their mobile phone SIMs would be blocked if they did not file their returns.

Earlier on May 7, the companies penned a letter to the IT and telecom ministry and PTA, stating that they were mandated to provide uninterrupted services to their customers, except in circumstances specified in the Telecom Act and relevant regulations.

They continued that the intention of the ITGO might be to penalise non-compliant individuals or to encourage them to enter the tax net, the specific measure being adopted lacked proper consideration.

The telecom companies argued that the FBR had not conducted a legal analysis, considered guaranteed constitutional rights or a carried out a cost-benefit review prior to passing and implementing the ITGO.

The industry further noted in the letter that rushing through this ITGO would adversely affect their customers, impacting their ability to access essential services, now recognised as a right to life under various judgments of the superior courts.

It also contended that the move undermined the rights and operational capacity of telecom operators who were fully compliant with tax obligations. “Any delinquent individual should instead be directly sanctioned without implicating and adversely affecting the telecom industry.”

 

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