Binoy Gupta*

Introduction

I retired on 30th September 2005 as Chief Commissioner of Income Tax I, Chennai  –  after completing 37 years of highly satisfying service in the income tax department.

I received several requests to write about my experiences. This small summary is the result of my ramblings.

I joined the Indian Revenue Service in 1968 and served the Income Tax Department of the Government of India for 37 years – from 1968 to my retirement in 2005.

I do not have any regrets or complaints. I have enjoyed my long tenure to the brim.

I have travelled extensively, indulged in photography even in remote areas, read a lot and written a lot.

I have written several books and hundreds of articles on a wide range of subjects, including numerous travelogues. I am still writing.

I have studied law. Although I hold a Ph.D. in law, the highest academic qualification in the subject, there is always so much to learn. I am still learning…every single day, every single moment of my life. Because learning does not mean academic learning alone, but real life learning.

I have always been fascinated by the complications and intricacies of the legal system and the legal process, especially in the Indian context.

One question that has perplexed judges, lawyers, administrators and litigants in India is the huge pendency of cases in every court, the ever mounting backlog, which paradoxically suits some persons.

This deters many genuine litigants from approaching the courts until they are driven to the wall.

In this small treatise, I have discussed certain incidents, incidents in my own life and career, with full documentation.

My purpose is not to seek any compassion or solicit sympathy.

I did what I felt right and just. And my reward has been my personal satisfaction for a job well done…satisfaction to the highest level possible.

I simply want to allow readers to peep into the working of the government system, to show how the administrative machinery works, and how the system can be distorted to favour some and to harm others; how justice can be delayed, denied and stalled; how someone can be harmed and hurt, and how the system watches helplessly – a mute and silent spectator while injustice after injustice is hurled at someone and how even a very senior officer can be made to suffer.

I have suffered and survived all these (though lesser incidents have taken a heavy toll in terms of physiological and psychological damage to several officers). The irony is that the perpetuators or connivers of such wrongs, not only never receive any admonishment or punishment, but receive promotions. Inspite of the final outcome, I have never received a word of regret or compassion from any one.

If a person in my situation – holding one of the highest positions in the government heirarchy can be made to suffer, what would be the fate of a common man, with little or no education, no resources and who can hardly be expected to meet the huge expenses involved?

Can something be done to reduce all this? Certainly It can.  Read Part I

Reminiscences of a

Chief Commissioner of Income Tax – 1

To study or not to study……is the question

Study and Career Advancement

We start our formal education, when we join the pre-school classes. And usually, the formal education goes up to the first degree.

Some go on to acquire post graduate degrees and diplomas or professional qualifications.

But in real life, the education process is a continuous and ever ending one. We are learning all the time.

Even when I was a Chief Commissioner, I never refused an invitation – whether from a small school, a practically non descript and unknown institution for the blind, a blood donation camp, a function organized by a leading professional body, chambers of commerce, or chairing a technical session of ophthalmologists, because this gave me an opportunity to mix with different segments of the public, publicize the government’s view point, boost the image of the department and create a feeling of goodwill.

How one enters the civil services 

In a few of these meetings, I was asked how one enters the superior Government services.

One enters the IAS, IPS and other Class 1 Central Services through a combined competitive examination conducted by the Union

Public Service Commission, New Delhi.

Any graduate, including a degree holder in medicine and engineering, aged between 21 and 26, can appear in this examination.

An aspirant has to appear in a preliminary examination which is a kind of screening examination. The purpose of the screening is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Most of those who are not serious aspirants are eliminated.

Those who pass the preliminary examination have to appear in a second written examination.

A small percentage of those who clear it are called for the interview.

The interview board usually consists of five members chosen from different fields – 5 birds of different feathers who have flocked together by mere accident.

They can ask any thing on earth (and even in heaven).

Before the interview board

I joined Government service purely by accident.

I saw several of my friends and colleagues filling the form for the IAS examination. I did the same. I did not do much preparation, but was eventually selected.

I appeared before one such interview board. At that time, I was working in a place where I had to look after various departments including family planning.

The lady member of the interview board asked me, “What do you have to do about family planning ?”.

I replied, “Nothing madam. I am unmarried.”

She understood the pun, took it in a light vein and left it at that.

In another interview, a member asked me whether I had visited the Botanical Gardens in Howrah.

When I answered in the affirmative, he asked me which plant has the largest leaf.

I could not tell him the Latin name of the Amazon water lily (Victoria amazonica).

The member said this means you have not seen the plant.

I told him, “No sir. It simply means, I did not see the name board or I have forgotten the name”.

A lady colleague’s cousin was called for interview.

As he entered the Union Public Service Commission’s interview room in New Delhi, he slipped on the highly polished floor.

One member started laughing, “Mr….ha..ha..ha….so you have slipped”.

The cousin got up, brushed his buttocks and politely answered, “Yes sir. But this is the first time I have slipped into good company.”

He fared extremely well and was selected for the Indian Foreign Service.

What an interview board seeks

During the last 37 years, I have sat on several interview boards. What do the boards endeavour to do?

Theoretical knowledge has already been tested in the written examinations.

The interview boards try to delve into the candidate’s personality and select the best. The members may provoke a candidate into arguments just to see his reaction.

Unfortunately, no board can correctly judge a person in half an hour or forty minutes.

Therefore, the interview remains to a great extent on the vagaries of chance or luck.

After selection, each officer is allotted a particular service.

Then he is trained to become an officer and eventually head his department in due course.

He has to pass several examinations.

Gradually, the officer climbs up the bureaucratic ladder with increasing salary, perks, responsibilities, and connections.

Another question I am often asked is whether there is any particular way to prepare for these examinations.

Yes. There are good coaching centres. Coaching does help.

A good diligent student can certainly pass the written examinations.

But few are as lucky as I am. I have cleared most examinations without much effort.

But the examinations are tough. The competition is stiff. One has to work really hard to get through.

You can see details of the various examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission at the following site: http://www.upscexam.com/upsc_examinations/

The Public Service Commissions of various states of India conduct similar examinations for recruitment to various state services.

Role of junior functionaries….to mislead 

Since every file is processed by a tier of clerks and officers, on the way up, most senior officers sadly lose the habit of reading and writing.

The result is that most decisions are taken on the basis of wonderful notings made by junior functionaries.

Juniors quickly learn of this frailty and take the fullest advantage.

They master the subtle art of misguiding and misleading.

They prepare elaborate notes running through several pages with beautiful beginning, endings and flaggings.

The middle part gently tells the officer what he should do and why.

Teaching and study 

In 1986, I was posted in Chennai as Deputy Commissioner. A Head of Department of Madras University asked me to teach Income Tax to the part time students of their P.G. Diploma Course.

I started taking classes on Saturdays.

A university room was specially opened for me.

After that, the Head of Department of Management Studies requested me to teach MBA students.

The subject he suggested was Investment Management.

I told him I had never studied Investment Management.

But he insisted that I should teach the subject.

I had to purchase several books and learn the subject.

It was gratifying when I found that all my students got good jobs.

One of my students later told me that he had been offered a job in Singapore for a fabulous salary.

But then, all the students had come through a stiff competition and represented the cream of the academia.

I decided to study and acquire one PG Diploma or degree every year.

The result was I acquired 6 PG diplomas in widely divergent fields, a Masters in Law and a Doctorate in Law.

I travelled a lot and wrote numerous articles.

I became a Quiz Master of AIR. I made several TV programs, including quite a few for the University Grants Commission, and even received a first award.

Study leave

Once you join one of the superior services, further academic education is really irrelevant.

But the Government would like its officer to improve themselves. It encourages academic pursuits.

The government gives paid leave for further studies and also bears other expenses, like fees, travelling, etc.

Unfortunately, this facility is used by officers to counter transfers, or to join their spouses.

After completing the study leave, officers are supposed to return back to their duties and work for three years, or refund the salary and allowances.

But there are cases, where officers go on study leave and simply vanish into thin air. They even take up lucrative jobs abroad.
And the Government watches in helplessness.

Cash incentives

There are some fools like me, who don’t take study leave and the perks that go with them, but continue with their studies at their own cost in their own time.

Once, someone in my department told me that I needed permission to take correspondence courses. I literally fought with every one that I needed no such permission. No one could show me any rule to this effect. Finally, the department accepted my interpretation.
After I received my doctorate in law, a colleague advised me not to mention about it to anyone because what was so great about it. Anyone could acquire a doctorate.

I told him that he had absolutely no idea about the value of a doctorate in law from Bombay University; otherwise he would not have given me his useless, unsolicited advice.

There are small cash incentives for acquiring academic qualifications. But I am waiting for the last 10 years or so, for the Rs. 10,000 cash incentive for my Ph.D. degree in law, which is one of the highest academic qualifications a person can dream of.

Perhaps, the senior officers in Delhi are too busy and certainly this amount is too small to merit any one’s attention.

What prompted me to study

I have often been asked this question.

My answer has been when I was married, I was a graduate in law. My wife was an M.A. She would always make fun of me and say she was more educated than me because she held a master’s degree. So I acquired a master’s degree in law.

Later, my two sons became medical doctors. Then, I acquired a doctorate so they could not make fun of me.

But actually, further education has been a sort of passion and given me a lot of satisfaction.

In Next Part, I will discuss Public Relations, Grievances and Corruption.

*(Author is retired Chief Commissioner of Income Tax)

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