New Delhi: The Indian Revenue Service Association of the Northeast region is seeking a makeover to ensure that the new ‘Faceless Taxation’ scheme implemented by the government does not render one of the premier civil services irrelevant.
In a resolution, the Association has proposed a rebranding of the service, a new transfer and placement policy for its officers, cadre restructuring, a robust deputation policy at the Centre, and creation of cadre post in other ministries and departments. ThePrint has accessed the document. The resolution is yet to be communicated to the government.
The move comes after widespread resentment among IRS officers regarding the ambitious ‘Faceless Taxation’ scheme, which many believe has rendered the service akin to “cyber policing”. Under the system, officially called the ‘Faceless Assessment, Faceless Appeal and Taxpayers Charter’, appeals can now be randomly allotted to any officer across the country. The identity of the officer will remain anonymous.
The All India IRS Association told ThePrint that it has nothing to do with this association.
Greater role at the Centre
The IRS Association of the Northeast has proposed that the deputation of its officers at the Centre be increased to 20 per cent from the existing 10. The service is responsible for collecting and administering direct and indirect taxes in the country, and its officers have repeatedly asked the government for parity with their IAS counterparts when it comes to postings, promotions, deputations, etc.
“As the I-T department is rapidly becoming systems-driven through machine-learning and artificial-intelligence driven initiatives, IRS officers also need to chart a trajectory independent of the department. Our officers should be encouraged and facilitated to assume larger roles in governance so that aspirational needs of individual officers are also fulfilled,” the resolution by the association said.
Further, the resolution wants the government to create “encadred” posts for IRS officers in ministries. As an example, it has suggested that the post of ‘financial adviser’ in various ministries and departments can be reserved for IRS officers. Moreover, for posts dealing with financial affairs, IRS officers should be given preference.
Stressing on expertise within government services, the Association said, “The best way to reinvent is to evolve from essentially a one-department identity and a one-function service to that of a competent administrator-cum-specialist in areas like taxation, financial intelligence, economic crimes and enforcement, fiscal policy, public finance, financial management etc.”
Diminishing status of IRS officers
The resolution, IRS officers told ThePrint, has come in the context of their increasingly diminishing status in the Indian bureaucracy.
“The (Faceless Taxation scheme) move should not just be seen as one that takes away from the excessive powers of a corrupt Income Tax officer… It also takes away the assessees’ right to have their cases heard and clarified properly,” said a senior IRS officer on the condition of anonymity.
“The whole thing has been portrayed as though tax terrorism was a creation of individual IRS officers, and by digitising the whole process and making it faceless, it will be eradicated,” this officer said.
P.K. Dash, a former IRS officer, said it was too early to form a judgement about the scheme, but pointed out that the government had implemented the scheme at full-scale even though the results of the pilot scheme were not known.
“It would be too premature to say whether the scheme will be good or not, because the results of faceless assessments of the limited scrutiny cases, done last year, are not known… The scheme of full-scale faceless assessments has been implemented now without waiting for the results of limited scrutiny cases,” Dash said.
He added it is not correct to identify a particular service as the source of all evil, and to paint it as such can be demoralising.
Speaking on the linkages between high tax collections and the performance appraisal of officers, Dash said it puts unnecessary pressure on officers. “It forces them to be harsh on the assessee, and resort to different ways to boost collection,” he said.
The unnamed officer quoted above agreed with Dash. “There is constant pressure by the government on officers to achieve targets, and yet, it is the IRS officers ‘who are behind the tax terrorism’,” the officer said.
‘Takes away sheen of IRS’
Another officer said the ‘Faceless Taxation’ scheme takes away the sheen from the IRS, and will reduce the number of civil service aspirants wanting to take up the service.
“The IRS is a technically competent service, with officers who have domain expertise…This move has reduced their job to a cyber policing job with no interaction with the public,” this officer said.
“For any civil servant, interaction with the public is a huge incentive… If you take that away, a lot of people would not want to join the service at all,” the officer added.
According to government officials, IRS is the most sought-after service among UPSC aspirants after the IAS.
The move has particularly made younger IRS officers uncertain about the future of their service. “I joined the service three years ago, but public dealings were a huge part of my ambition to be a civil servant — that has been taken away,” a young IRS officer said.
Officers also said even to assert its anti-corruption agenda, the Centre has only penalised IRS officers by forcibly removing several of them under Rule 56(j) of the Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1972, which allows for periodical performance review of government servants to ascertain whether they should be retained in service or forcibly retired in public interest.
“While the government has been saying that it will come down heavily on corrupt government servants, not one IAS or IPS officer has been removed,” the second unnamed officer quoted above said.
The Modi government has also been significantly reducing the recruitment of IRS officers through the UPSC exam each year, since coming to power in 2014.
Last year, ThePrint had reported how the recruitment of IRS officers has declined by almost 74 per cent since 2013.
“Couple this with murmurs about merging the IRS’ I-T and Customs cadres, and it is obvious why an average IRS officer would feel uncertain about the future of the service,” the young IRS officer quoted above said.
This report has been updated to clarify that it is the IRS Association of the Northeast that has proposed changes in a resolution, not the All India IRS Association. The resolution is yet to be communicated to the government.
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