Abhishek Panicker

The GST workforce, nay workhorse!

Those were the days when classification lists and price lists occupied the foremost place in the “image building” of a Collectorate.

Meaning to say that disposal of the CL/PL section in a Collectorate was considered to be the benchmark by which the efficiency of a Collectorate was gauged.

Prior to this we handled the classification under Tariff Item, proforma credit, money credit and what not. AGNOES tariff item 68 was what always fascinated us with its veritable appetite for accommodating all the orphans which failed to get parentage under the other tariff items. Physical control was the in-thing those days only to fade into oblivion and restrict itself to a commodity or two in the years that followed. But that is another story for another day. And, acronym AGNOES meant All goods not elsewhere specified!

The year 1986 made us change track to the CETA classification. Remnants of TI 68 exemption notification and the like continued to find place in our Tariff. We never ostracized them or disowned them but took care of them and helped them nurture our growth journey.

MODVAT had just entered the scene and it was tough for us to un-learn about the money credit/proforma credit scheme and imbibe the MODVAT philosophy. The bunch of rules from 57A to 57K under the Central Excise Rules, 1944 was difficult to begin with but we polished and mastered it. Then came 57AA onwards from year 2000 but we took them in our stride. Later, the rules met death and were reborn in 2001/2002 and in 2004.

Going back, it was a whole new learning experience poring over the HSN and finding an apt classification for the goods manufactured by the assessee. HSN itself was hard to find and a Commissionerate had only a couple of sets of them. But we pushed on. Coupled with the above, approving a classification and extending or denying the SSI exemption notification benefit coupled with other exemptions claimed was a gargantuan task.

Analysing the Price lists filed was no mean job and it took a master to get it approved for you. Filing price lists in various proforma Part I, Part II upto Part VII was in itself a complicated procedure but over the years everyone learned which proforma for which kind of sale.

I make a mention here of the notoriously famous notification 101/66-CE which granted full exemption to OSAA goods meaning Organic Surface Active Agents falling under 34.02 of the CETA, 1985. Companies were born to ‘claim’ this exemption notification and it was a regular feature to send samples to the Chemical Examiner for ascertaining whether the product was OSAA. It always was and this notification lost steam only when it was rescinded on 25.07.1991 and that’s when we embarked upon liberalization, as they say!

We had fun working with notification 11/88-CE(NT) and the yearly ritual of filing declarations by 15th April. Receiving such declarations was the favourite pastime of the sepoys and inward clerk staff and not to mention the glee on the faces of the Preventive officers of the division.

In the years to come, all that changed since the trade came out with a unique jargon of ‘doing away with Inspector Raj’ and they had sympathizers with the political class thus paving the way of ‘self assessment’ and a lot more.

Added to it was the demise of Supplementary gate passes, RT-12 returns, initiation of ‘registered dealer, first stage/second stage’ etc. etc. invoices etc.

The year 1994 saw us learn something new in the form of Service Tax. It was rumored that the Income Tax authorities wanted to administer this tax but our department impressed upon the powers that be that being an indirect tax and involving classification and valuation issues, we were the right guys for the job. They were convinced and we did justice to our job. So much so that over a decade our Service Tax collections surpassed any other tax that the government could even visualize to collect from the taxpayer.

We never asked for anything extra for this added responsibility. We learned the tax as the days went by and the Government thought it prudent to extend to more than hundred services from the spartan imposition on a couple of services.

Never cribbed about our work pressures and the challenge to learn and unlearn day in day out a new law, a new dispensation with assistance from our training academy.

The law shifted to the negative list philosophy and amidst the cacophony of the innumerable amendments and the conundrum associated with each one of them we continued to chug along.

The latest figures of the service tax collection April-September, 2016 stands at Rs.1,16,975 crore as compared to Rs. 95,780 crore during the corresponding period in the previous FY (growth of 22.1%) and obviously this is all due to the hardwork by our workforce.

They say that an assessee pays tax inspite of the taxman. May be not entirely false, but had the taxman not been around, the assessee would not have been diligent in complying with the law.

That apart, now that the new tax revolution in the from of Implementation of Goods and Services Tax is going to occupy prime time space from April 2017 (not that it is not being trumpeted now), the officers feel neglected not (only) because they were not consulted but because they were not taken into confidence all through while coming out with the law.

Passionate as they are with the subject all these years, correct it to more than three decades counting from the days of CETA system of classification, it certainly is painful to read, see and hear them get jittery with the very mention of their carefully nurtured tax law and territory being usurped or to mention mildly – encroached.

Ground reality I do not know firsthand, but if the above is true then we are better off with the present system of taxation, my heart says. But then, that’s not in the interest of the country, the economist would correct me, and add that I am being too possessive and selfish!

I dunno whether I am right or wrong but we never felt neglected or treated like this ever before.

Sweet and bitter memories of more than three decades of my working in the department is all that is left with me and this is what helps me carry on all these post retirement years.

My heart bleeds for my brethren and I am reminded of the quote from the Bible which goes – If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

We are a workforce and are never shy to be a workhorse, correct me if I am still not “right”!

(Author is retired officer of  Central Excise department)

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