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Silencing the IRS — the story of Modi govt’s face-off with an elite civil service

The three IRS officers were discharged of their duties for authorising a contentious report advocating a tax hike to boost the Covid-stricken economy.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has taken stern action against three senior Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officers for putting into public domain a contentious report advocating tax hike to give a boost to the Covid-stricken economy. However, most officers in the IRS see the move as a gross overreaction, and the latest in the government’s attempts to penalise a relatively vocal service association.

The three officers, who have been discharged of their duties for violation of conduct rules by the government Monday, are Prashant Bhushan (1988 batch), principal commissioner of income tax, Delhi; Shri Prakash Dubey (2001 batch), director, Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT); and Sanjay Bahadur (1989 batch), principal director of investigations in the north-east region for the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT).

ThePrint had first reported last week that a policy paper titled ‘Fiscal Options & Response to Covid-19 Epidemic’ had made several recommendations to the Modi government on measures that can be taken to boost the economy after the lockdown.

Once it came into the public domain, the Modi government unequivocally distanced itself from the report, whose recommendations included a super-rich tax, a Covid-19 cess, and the reintroduction of wealth tax and inheritance tax. The government called the report “irresponsible”, and charge-sheeted the three officers it alleged were behind the report.

While Bhushan has been accused by the government of sharing the report publicly through the official handle of the IRS Association, Dubey and Bahadur have been accused of authorising the report authored by around 50 young officers.

However, IRS officers, several of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the “disproportionate reaction” was only the latest in the government’s “clampdown” on the service.

Also read: Dear young IRS officers, taxing the rich in Covid times is bad economics

‘Unblemished records’

The fact that all three IRS officers punished by the government are said to have absolutely unblemished records is a source of further demotivation for young officers of the cadre.

“These are all officers who have been like mentors to young IRS officers from the beginning… They have all been at the academy at some point or the other, and been great teachers for young officers,” said a young IRS officer.

Another IRS officer said the biggest evidence of how clean these officers are is the fact that even the government orders against them mention no other allegations.

“It is very easy for the government to find a case against any officer who has spent 20 or 30 years in service… But for these three, it has only said that their actions created panic,” this officer said.

In addition to being a senior IRS officer, Bahadur is also a respected novelist, whose debut novel The Sound of Water was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2007.

Modi govt action against IRS officers

In 2019, after coming back to power, the Modi government repeatedly said it would compulsorily retire corrupt and underperforming civil servants. However, the only officers to face mass retirements were from the IRS — the government forcibly sent over 50 of them into retirement on charges of corruption, underperformance and fraud, etc.

Among the first group of 15 IRS officers to be retired, in June 2018, was Anup Srivastava, who was also the president of the IRS Customs Association. On his forced retirement, Srivastava had called the actions of the government “clear malafide personal vendetta”.

Under Srivastava, the IRS Customs Association had said in 2017 that certain decisions taken by the GST Council were against national interest and could have “serious implications” for the government’s revenue and smooth implementation of the new tax regime.

It must be noted that the three officials now facing action for the contentious recommendation belong to a different association for a separate set of IRS officers, the IRS Income Tax Association.

‘No one will dare to speak up’

The IRS Associations, both Customs and IT, are among the rare civil servant bodies to have spoken up on some contentious issues under the Modi government.

In 2018, for example, the IRS IT Association spoke on the issue of lateral entry in civil services. In a detailed representation to the government, the association said the government should also take measures to make better use of talent within the civil services by promoting non-IAS officers and breaking the ‘generalist’ stranglehold in governance.

The IRS, over the years, has sought parity with IAS officers, speaking both publicly and privately against the alleged preference given to the other service in picking officers for top positions in the government.

“Why is it that the government always uses IRS officers to make a point? It is something that is demotivating for our entire cadre,” a senior IRS officer said.

“The only thing these officers should have not done is gone public with the report… But such an extreme step for that is completely unwarranted,” the officer said.

ThePrint tried to contact IRS IT Association president Binay Jha several times for a comment, but there was no response.

After this episode, IRS officers believe that not just their associations, but no other civil servant association would dare to speak up or put forth its views on any matter.

The young officer quoted above said: “For the government to take such drastic action against a recommendation it could have simply distanced itself from is very scary for everyone, but for us, it worse to see this happen to our senior mentors. It sends a very chilling message down to the bottom — don’t speak up or express your thoughts, ever.”


Arvind Mayaram, a retired 1978 batch IAS officer and former finance secretary, called the government’s action against the three IRS officers an “overreaction”.

“It is a bit of an overreaction in my opinion,” Mayaram said. “The government is getting thousands of recommendations at this point; all it needed to do was to say that the IRS Association is not a representative of the government…The spokesperson could have simply said that the government does not advocate it.”

Moreover, it seems unlikely that the case would stand in the court of law, Mayaram added.

“Conduct rules do not state that an officer, even in their personal capacity, cannot make a recommendation to the government…That is no act of indiscipline,” he said.

Also read: IRS officers’ tips to revive economy and how radical ideas of 1970s are lurking in the air


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  1. To all the haters,
    Even Bill Gates approved of the report so shut your filthy mouths or at least think before pretending to act like a critic….
    These officers didn’t do anything unlawful at all, they simply shared a list of ACTUALLY PRACTICALLY APPLICABLE suggestions, which half of you didn’t even bother to read before giving your final judgment!
    STOP having a herd mentality and blindly following idiots who claim that these officers “deserved” such horrible treatment!

  2. The government is the one at fault here!! Such overreaction is intolerable!! These sincere officers do not deserve such unfair and harsh treatment for being vocal about their opinions… Wake Up, India!! THIS IS NOT DEMOCRACY!!

  3. We are on 25 May 2020, still the GST Collection figures for April 2020 is not released. This has raised a huge concern or doubt on the quality of data published in the international community.

    If April 2020 GST collection is to be published in June then when May 2020 data will be published ?

  4. These Revenue officers are spineless. They authored a draft recommendation and their seniors authorized the draft. The report came out in public domain, so what. It appears that it was in fact the government that had authorized these revenue officers to draft their recommendations with an instruction not to make it public. Now that it was public, the government fearing a backlash from the rich elite class, decided to sacrifice these senior revenue officers as scape goats. The IRS officers association should realize that the government has gone for a kill and rather than getting petrified and alarmed they should stand up in protest. After all if they expect that they should be treated at par with the IAS, then should get rid of the fear factor and should behave in more mature way displaying moral courage and emotional strength. Such cry boy attitude who recoils in his closet unable to put up with any challenge or an emerging and evolving situation, is highly unbecoming of an elite service group. They have in them the ability, class, skill and calibre to steer their life and living and should not nurture a handicapped mentality at the mere thought of losing their jobs and service. They should come out brave and protest to redeem their honour rather than crying over spilled milk.
    (Md. Israil )

  5. Ability to study suggestions irrespective of the author or orientation is a mark of mature governance. Governments must accept suggestions with an open mind.
    On the other hand bureaucrats must understand that the public looks to them for clean and circumspect administration. They have to behave.

  6. A govt which stops DA to poor pensioners can go to any extreme.Let there be early Loksbha election or referendum.

  7. Serves the “Elite” right. Stupid punks voted for Modi and now paying for it. As you sow, so shall you reap.

  8. Instead finding ways and means to unearth black money held by all categories of people perhaps other than poor and a good chunk of salaried class these officers thought it smart to augment revenue by coming out with some unpalatable suggestions at this time of crisis. There are umpteen ways to augment the resources . Gold reserves , benami transactions ,loot through banks and NBFCs if monetized or prevented further the resources needed to overcome the present crisis can be easily explored.

  9. This government does not want to listen to anyone and are stubborn.Are we living in a democratic country?? I don’t think so.More scaring is the fact that the officers were honest.We need to condemn these actions of d govt and need to stand up.

  10. Government officers absolutely can’t leak recommendations and/or delibrations to media or to public. Forming if opinion or representation is not the matter. Putting it in public domain is. This is not a way any serious government can function. Leaking internal files even before any decisions on it are made is tantamount to breaching the employee contract at the core. Good that a hard punishment was met and example set.

  11. It is no surprise that this moodi and co dispensation will go to any length ,even murdering people like justice lavasa, journalist and writer like gauri. Lankesh ,former TN CM Jayalalitha ,etc and a host of others and do any anti people ,anti national act to sustain itself in power ! In addition to honest officers ,even the press and media are gagged and silenced !Seems like everyone has to sing the praise of moodi and co! Maybe even the Corona virus lockdowns are being done with ulterior and political motives . These guys will do anything for power !It is a dangerous situation!One can trust a wolf or a goat . But one can never trust a wolf in a goat’s skin ,which is what moodi and co is! It’s more than an Orwellian nightmare!

  12. Is the contents in the report are of The Print?
    Why only some times it’s mentioned after the report the views are personal of the author & not always?

  13. While all these civil services folks will give all sort of ideas like increasing taxes etc they will keep mum when it comes to reforms in civil services.most of our civil servants are generalist without any specialisation .what we need is economists in finance ministry,tax specialists in revenue department Then only this government system of decision making will get reformed or else the present sclerotic bureacracy will continue to the detriment of the people

  14. If it was just suggestion then why did he leaked his own suggestion (out of 1000s suggestions) to the Media?Isn’t he stupid? So that govt earns a bad name……

    IRS is recommending to hike the tax not govt. Both leaking the stupid suggestion and giving the stupid suggestions deserves this.

  15. Reporter Madam, Another biased report
    …May I know why only this suggestion came out from 1000s of suggestions? Suggested by the IRS but showing as if Govt has done this….Congressi Media ko Jalan hoti hai bahut ….

  16. The three would not have been pulled up if the report had been sent to the government for consideration. The effect of the publication of this report from the official handle of the Officers Association, was such that it was believed as the governments view by a vast majority of people. So much so that an old warhorse like Sekhar Gupta had to do a ‘ cut the clutter’, on this topic as if it were true.
    So the moaning of officers that it will’ have a chilling effect’ on free thought is popycock, and so much drivel. The officers can always give their views and suggestions to the government. The action against the three officers will make the matters clear and a lesson for others to emulate.

  17. It appears the characters in the report believe that personal honesty equates with intelligence; good intentions with smart strategy. That never is the case. However blemishless the records (nothing great there as that IS what is expected of every one) of the three officers, they do not take away the fact that the three tried to do something stupid. Their main error of judgement was, they assumed that their being IRS officers also qualifies them as economists. Going by the report, they are no economists. At best, they are well-meaning gullible fools.

  18. How dare you speak againest the all powerful MAHARAJA of the country. You will be beheaded

    • Its showing from your comment that how intelligent u are…. The person (IRS) is leaking his own suggestion to all of you and showing that govt. wants to implement…its clearly fishy and Maharaja has done right thing. Stupids not required at this time. Already so much panic and by leaking a suggestion he fueled it

    • WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!? You do not have the right to say that to anyone no matter the situation! So please keep your bloody tongue and mind in check… Modi is not some “maharaj”, he is simply the Prime Minister of this country for the time being…
      As for this whole debacle, it is an utmost overreaction on the government’s part. These officers are noble in their strive and did whatever they thought best in good faith. Their only mistake was to go public with the report, and the government taking disciplinary actions against them only shows the government’s true nature.

  19. It is not an uncommon thing that ,before declaring a critical policy change ;the government leaks the proposed change through unofficial channels.
    In this particular case , at this critical time ; when the situation is so much vulnerable , some basic maturity was expected from these officers .
    All over the world , the governments are declaring unprecedented packages to help the people & industry ; and these guys at such high posts are collectively proposing tax raise ? Can we imagine the kind of signal we as a country are sending outside ? will any prudent investor, who would be thinking of bringing some manufacturing from china to India ; would step forward ? Are there any other country’s who are not eager to embrace them ? Wake up bureaucracy . Please come out of your ivory tower . Introspect ; please be sensitive, please be creative .

  20. Raising a hammer to kill a fly. After all it was a recommendation. It was not a G.O or notification. Whether it was made public or not, how does it matter? Recommendation by a service association or group of individuals can be accepted or rejected outright. Modi govt should simply said, it did not subscribe to the recommendations. If you are not ready listen, then who will talk to you?? Best would have been to send officially and not make public. To remove them from their charge is too much. They can be issued warning letter to refrain from giving unsolicited advice.

  21. Being a senior IRS officers they should have followed basic policy of their Job, that’s too during a pandemic critical time such a irresponsible reports without sending to higher officials can’t be published in media, which can create panic & confusion for public.
    THESE OFFICERS intention is clearly to malign the Govt and create panic for the people in emergency time Just to please their some indirect bosses. More strict actions should be taken against them under pandemic emergency law if anything untoward incidents happen due this report.

    • All said and done, it is a recommendation, which the govt may or may not accept. It was not a notification or G.O which has to be complied with. When it was just report or suggestion where is trying to malign the govt?? This disproportionate action by Modi govt shows that it is vindictive, revengeful and stubborn. Of course, making it public could have been avoided. But ultimately, it was a recommendation

      • If it was just a suggestion then why did he leaked his own stupid suggestion? Intention is clear….

  22. This govt. led by Mr.Modi has let loose a reign of terror and does not allow any one to speak openly and frankly.An autocratic govt.led by Mr.Modi always in a revenging mood and showing irresponsible attitude towards his officers and subordinates .A fascist govt. with notorious attitude.

  23. Was the data revealed in the report covered under the Official Secrets Act?
    If it could be placed in the public domain under the RTI Act – where is the risk or culpability of the IRS officers in exposing the data public otherwise..

  24. Ideas always have an uncanny habit of coming back. Times change. Ideas which looks invincible now collapses after a time.

  25. It is no surprise to see such an “over-reaction” on part of the Modi Government which has always attempted to and mostly succeded in silencing any views and recommendations that do not align with its own interests and opinions.

    • Madam, it’s not over action. Dont look at this with one angle. Who gave the suggestion? Its IRS…. Who leaked it? IRS….Why only one suggestion came out out of 1000s? So that govt earns Bad name….. Don’t he need to learn some discipline at this post and in this hard time?

  26. There is always a turf war between the IRS and IAS. However, by making the unauthorised recommendations public, these IRS officers gave the opportunity to IAS lobby to hit them badly. There was no reason to make it public even if there was a requirement to do such a study by IRS association. These three officers were honest, maybe? there is no record against them but honestly does not mean indisciplined. I am very sure this government will bring total bureaucracy including IAS, under control. Hay days are over.

    • This is common sense of being disciplined , if senior officers are not following discipline how about his juniors who wil be leading India in other countries after 10 years, what if they do same indiscipline activities in foreign countries spoiling our country image.

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