One day, in August 2005, when I was Chief Commissioner of Hubli, I received a phone call, or rather an offer, to move over to Chennai as Chief Commissioner of Income Tax.
During those days, Chennai was a sensitive posting. The AIDMK was ruling the State. The DMK was controlling the income tax, customs and excise departments at the centre.
My first reaction was immediate refusal. I said I was quite happy and comfortable in the non controversial position in a small place like Hubli and therefore not interested.
My posting in Chennai
After a couple of days, I received another phone call. The people who had offered me the post simply could not understand my reaction.
There were so many people asking for that post and here I was declining the offer!
I was cajoled into meeting an important personality before taking a final decision.
The meeting was arranged.
I was asked why I was not interested.
I told him that I would find it difficult to carry out illegal requests and orders and that this would only create complications for everyone.
I was assured that no such request would be made.
And if any such request was made, I was free to follow the legal course.
Given this assurance, I had nothing to say.
With this back ground, I landed up in Chennai.
And I had the most satisfying, eventful, year of my service life.
There were times when I held the charges of all the five Chief Commissioners of Income Tax in Chennai, Director General of Income Tax, Chennai and the charges of Tiruchi, Madurai and Coimbatore.
All Ministers have a large constituency to nurse and a herd of supporters they have to keep in good humour. It is remarkably difficult work.
They receive all kinds of requests – from seniors, colleagues, MPs, party big wigs, donors, friends and many others.
They fully realize that most of such requests cannot be kept.
But often, in the presence of the complainant, they are forced to pass on the request to the concerned Chief Commissioner.
It is left to the bureaucrat to deal with the request in his own way.
Some requests are impossible to fulfill, and these the bureaucrat has to refuse.
Some are difficult, but not impossible. He has to use his discretion.
Some are simple, harmless requests which can be kept.
But the main thing is the bureaucrat has to act in a polite, tactful, manner.
For instance, a big wig is raided by the income tax department. The department seizes a lot of unaccounted money and incriminating documents.
He rushes to the minister, or to some other influential person. In turn, the Minister telephones the Chief Commissioner.
Here, it is impossible to release all the incriminating material and hush up the entire matter (though a few officers have gone to the extent of even doing this).
The case has to be handled diplomatically.
Pluck the feathers but don’t kill the golden goose.
I am reminded of an old incident concerning a very seasoned Cabinet Minister for Railways.
There was a road passing through some railway property.
It was not in good condition. Some local boys were constantly complaining to him about it.
One day, the Railway Minister called the Divisional Railway Manager in front of the boys and ordered that he should get the entire road repaired within 24 hours; otherwise he would be transferred out.
The poor Divisional Railway Manager was shocked. He could not sleep the whole night. Next day, he caught hold of the Minister’s friend and together they went to the Minister. He explained that this could not be done.
The Minister asked him how long he had been working in the railways. He said something like 30 years. The Minister told him that he also knew the road could not be repaired in 24 hours. All this drama was only for public consumption.
I have never criticised any Government policy or decision in public because bureaucrats are supposed to implement the policies. Senior bureaucrats, like Chief Commissioners, are involved in the policy making process to some extent. But once a policy decision has been taken, bureaucrats should implement it.
In another meeting, I said that VAT had been introduced almost throughout India; Madras and U.P. could not remain exceptions and would have to follow suit.
Some top police officials of Tamil Nadu cautioned me not to go out alone for my morning walks.
But I never felt any threat or danger and walked for an hour almost every morning.
Post retirement jobs
These are the carrots hanging before senior bureaucrats which goad them into doing all sorts of illegal things.
These constitute a plethora of postings, ranging from two to five years, with government accommodation, telephone, car and driver and a lot of air travel.
I am against such post retirement assignments the way they are distributed. If the assignments are based more on merit, there could be no possible objection.
How do retired officers spend time
When a senior officer retires, he is at the peak of his service career working very hard, quite busy and basking in the lime light of his glory.
All of a sudden, he retires. It is like being thrown down from the top of a mountain.
Even though retirement is as certain as death and the dates are fixed, a few can never mentally adjust themselves to retired life. They are the most miserable creatures on earth. I really pity them.
A few manage to get some assignments. This keeps them busy for another couple of years or more.
For a senior bureaucrat used to the busy and lavish ways of life, retirement is a real curse. It is not the financial part. He usually has sufficient to live comfortably. It is more about spending time.
A few associate themselves with charitable or socio-economic organisations. A few suddenly discover religion. A few write books. A few start some sort of consultancy work.
How I spend my time
I was offered private jobs. I would have earned a good package and perks. But somehow, I have never liked the idea of working under some business tycoon after retirement. I did not find any charm in engaging myself in any sort of consultancy work.
I spend my time reading, writing, travelling and photography. I have even started a travel blog. I go to the gymnasium regularly to keep physically fit.
All this keeps me happy, content and fit – both physically and mentally.
What more do I need?
*(Author is retired Chief Commissioner of Income Tax)