It has been the practice in the Central Excise Department since a very long time, even before the independence of India, that the Central Excise Inspectors are required to wear Uniforms and the said practice and custom is still in force in the department. There is no circular, letter or order of any Higher Authority banning the Uniform and the officers are paid additional allowances for wearing and maintaining their Uniform.
2.0 Pre-GST era
In terms of guidelines issued vide para 182 of Section 1 of Chapter 7 of the Central Excise Office Procedure Manual, 1975 officers in the rank of Assistant Commissioner and below are required to wear khaki uniform while on duty.
The All India Central Excise Inspectors’ Association (AICEIA) condemned the wearing of uniforms by officers & in a written representation to the then CBEC dated 23.08.2016 submitted:
“…we hereby once again request you to order the abolition of the Uniform from Central Excise on the following grounds/reasons:-
1. Uniform is the legacy of “Tobacco-Era”. Progressive changes in Excise laws have rendered the Uniform useless in the field activities. The field operations In Central Excise are nothing but akin to that of the field operations in Income Tax, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Directorate of Central Excise Intelligence, Central Bureau of Investigation etc. But out of all the above said organizations, Central Excise department alone is saddled with uniform. When the controls have been shifted to an audit and intelligence gathering mode, Uniform is more of a hindrance than a matter of pride or a necessity for identification or protection.
2. Due to tax reforms, neither the assessee requires attending the Central Excise Office nor the Officers require visiting the factory premises frequently. The digitalization of the department left little space for Interaction between the assessee and the officers. Hence the uniform lost its relevancy.
3. Various powers prodded to the departmental officers to visit factories and carry out frequent checks have been done away with and in this modern era even LTUs are functioning with officers only termed as “Executives”. So, calling for officers to be in uniform in the office throughout working hours is nothing but resorting “Inspector-Raj”, which is very much against the policy of the Government.
4. Police, Armed forces, Fire fighters etc., who wears Uniforms, have important governmental and public safety interests in ensuring that members of the public are able to readily identify police officers, Armed forces, firefighters etc. who are on duty. But in case of Central Excise Officers, it does not require.
5. We are set to move into “Goods & Service Tax” regime and we are supposed to be Central GST and IGST Officers while the State Sales Tax Officers would be State GST. When State GST officers would not be wearing uniform, it would be ridiculous for us, who would be performing the same functions of tax collection by way of “Wearing-Uniform”.
7. Further, the CBEC spends lakhs of Rupees annually as Uniform Allowances which results in nothing. It does not contribute in tax collection anymore. The only purpose of the Uniform is to glorify the non-uniformed higher officers of the department in the name of Protocol Duty. In view of the above, it Is once again submitted that the uniform in Central Excise Department is absolutely unnecessary, against the basic idea of liberalization and burden on government exchequer and misused only for the protocols to higher officers. The uniform is not serving any purpose in collection of Central Excise Duty/Service Tax. Hence, we request you to abolish Uniform from Central Excise & Service Tax Department and this is right time when we are going to be the witnesses of the greatest tax reform of all times i.e. Goods and Service Tax.”
Further, the Task Force on Indirect Taxes (Kelkar Committee), as early as in 2002, vide Chapter-7 Para 6.11.1 observed: “(i) Central Excise officers should not be required to wear uniform. This would change the mindset on both side (Department and taxpayer) and contribute to freer communication.“
However, multiple representations by the Departmental officers as well as recommendations of various Committees made to CBEC fell to deaf ears & the regulations on wearing of uniform by officers was not done away with.
Immediately after GST came into force, on 13.07.2017, a RTI question was asked, “Under which Rule of GST or otherwise Central Excise officers are wearing uniform after 01.07.2017?“
And the then CBEC replied, “The rule governing the wearing of uniform by Central Excise Officers has not changed after 01.07.2017.”
Further in another RTI reply dated June 13, 2019, on a query regarding the Rules in respect of Uniform under CBIC for GST officers, the CBIC replied:
“All Central Excise and Customs Officers of and below the rank of Assistant Commissioner including officers of the Preventive Intelligence Branch must wear uniform when on duty, both in their offices and on tour. Where it is considered necessary for an officer to conceal his identity in connection with any special job, the officer must obtain prior permission of his controlling officer to be on duty without wearing uniform. Where, however, it may not be possible due to unforeseen circumstances to obtain prior approval, the Officer may perform the special duty in plain clothes but the immediate superior officer must be informed immediately, and on such occasions the Officer must carry with him the identity card Issued to him by the Collector. Permission in such cases should be restricted to specified occasions and general relaxations from wearing uniforms should not be permitted for any grade of officers without the Board’s prior approval. Circle and Divisional Officers are responsible for ensuring that their field staff wear prescribed uniforms at all times when on duty. The Customs Officers employed on Preventive Intelligence work are exempt from wearing uniform except on special and ceremonial occasions.”
In January 2019, an Assistant Commissioner of Central GST issued an Office Order:
“It has been observed that all the Inspectors posted in the Division are regularly been drawing uniform allowance as per the norms prescribed. However, none of the officers were wearing the same; the same was also observed by the Joint Commissioner during his visit / inspection of Division on 05.12.2018 at 16:00 hrs. All Inspectors are directed to wear proper uniform during office hours regularly.”
In GST regime, government is trying to portray itself as tax payers friendly and is urging us to become more tax compliant. However on the contrary they are continuing Khakhi uniform in Central Excise department, which in itself is sufficient to instil fear in taxpayers, as it is similar to a police uniform. When the Government is actively trying to stop VIP culture in the country still officers of Central Excise are coming along with uniformed officer.
4.0 From the Parliament:
Recently, Shri Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma, a Lok Sabha member, posed several questions to the Hon’ble Finance Minister about the laws, rules and guidelines related to wearing of khaki uniform by the officers in Central Goods and Services Tax (CGST) department, guard of honour, control room duty, parade and escort in force at present. The Finance Minister in a written reply on March 22, 2021 stated:
“a) Khaki uniform has not been prescribed under any specific provision of CGST Act 2017. The Central Excise Act is still in force. As per the proviso to Section 3 of CGST Act 2017, the Central Excise officers are deemed to be officers under the CGST Act 2017. Khaki uniform has been prescribed under Chapter 7 of the Central Excise, Circle and Divisional Office Procedure manual, 1975.
b) The CGST officers deal with the tax evasion matters related to Central Excise, Customs and CGST which entails search of a premise/person, stopping a vehicle/vessel, arrest of an offender, border patrolling and guarding of premises. Uniform helps the trade identity of departmental officers and prevents impersonation. It also helps the departmental officers in discharging their official duties. Further, uniform was also prescribed to maintain and encourage a proper sense of discipline and to ensure proper turnout.
c) No order/instructions have been issued by the Department relating to guard of honour and control room duty in the last three years.
d) The Department of Expenditure OM dated 02.08.2017 has prescribed dress allowance to various forces including executive staff of Customs, Central Excise & Narcotics Department (both in summer and summer-cum-winter). The same has been circulated vide letter F.No. 26017/22/2008-Ad.IIA dated 04.10.2017.
e) No, sir. However, in terms of guidelines issued vide para 182 of Section 1 of Chapter 7 of the Central Excise Office Procedure Manual, 1975 officers in the rank of Assistant Commissioner and below are required to wear uniform while on duty.”
Ironically, all the functions mentioned by the Hon’ble Finance Minister are also performed by the officers of DRI, DGGI. However, they are not required to wear uniforms. Similarly, CBI officers & Income Tax officers don’t wear uniform. Yet another paradox is that the Central GST officers have uniforms, while State GST officers manage the same set of laws with no uniform. Seems like there is no uniformity even in uniforms.
Further, crores of rupees are being spent presently on uniform allowance, something which does not even contribute to tax collection anymore. Additionally, the Departmental officers have also been actively raising voice against the said regulation. It is high time for CBIC to realize the obsolete nature of such regulation & abolish the Rules related to uniforms to save crores of spending from the Government exchequer & finally bring the much-needed uniformity atleast in uniforms.
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Disclaimer: Views and Opinions expressed in the article are my personal and do not construe any suggestion or a professional or legal advice.