The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has so far blocked over 11,000 mobile phone SIMs of non-tax filers, according to an official.

FBR spokesperson Bakhtiar Mohammad told Dawn.com that “11,252 SIMs had been blocked till May 22 (yesterday) under Income Tax General Order.

He added that the tax-collecting body was “committed to promoting tax compliance and tax culture”.

Earlier, it was reported widely by the media that the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had issued a stay order on the government’s decision to block SIMs of those who failed to file tax returns in 2023.

However, according to a Dawn.com correspondent, the IHC later clarified that the stay order was not on blocking SIMs but solely on taking action against the petitioner, private telecom operator Zong.

In a hearing of the same case yesterday, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq stated, “Let me clarify that the stay order was not on blocking SIMs but only to provide protection to the petitioners.

“The government’s order to block SIMs is still in the field,” he observed.

On April 30, the FBR had released a comprehensive list of 506,671 individuals who failed to file their tax returns for 2023. As a penalty, their mobile phone SIMs were to be promptly blocked. However, telecom providers objected to the decision and delayed its execution, which was made under an act of parliament.

On May 4, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had refused to act upon the FBR’s demand, saying its execution did not fall within its jurisdiction and thus the order would have “no legal binding effect”.

Days later, telecom companies had collectively forwarded their concerns to the Ministry of IT, contending that the FBR’s decision to block SIMs of non-filers was made in undue haste and would adversely impact telecom customers.

The letter by the cellular mobile operators (CMOs) said they were obligated to provide uninterrupted services to their customers except in the circumstances mentioned in the Telecom Act and applicable regulations; there are no instances wherein CMOs can disconnect or block the service of any customer.

Finally, on May 10, telecom operators agreed to initiate the manual blocking process in small batches of non-filers, ending a week-long standoff over the implementation of the tax machinery drive to broaden the tax base.

The understanding had been reached after the FBR held crucial meetings with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and telecom operators to implement Income Tax General Order No. 1, issued under Section 114 B of the Income Tax Ordinance 2001.

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