New Delhi: The recruitment of officers of the Indian Revenue Service — responsible for collecting and administering direct and indirect taxes in the country — has declined by almost 74 per cent since 2013, which includes the five years of Narendra Modi’s NDA government at the centre.
In 2013, 409 IRS officers were recruited through the civil service examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission. By 2017, this number had dropped to just 208. For 2018, the government released only 106, but it is not yet clear how many officers will actually be recruited, since the examination results came out only recently and service allocation is yet to be done.
Recruitment of officers in the civil services has generally been on the decline since the Modi government came to power.
While the number of IAS, IPS and IFS officers recruited through the service has remained more or less constant, the number for the IRS has been falling consistently.
‘Jumbo’ batches a result of restructuring
Most government officials argue that the decline is because “jumbo batches” of IRS officers had been recruited up till 2016, and there is now a need to “balance” the numbers.
“The government was taking batches of over 400 IRS officers. So, now there is a need to reduce the numbers so that the hierarchy remains in the structure of a pyramid, and not a parallel cylinder with too many officers on top,” said an IRS (Customs and Central Excise) officer.
Then, there is also the aspect of promotions to consider, argued a senior IRS (Income Tax) officer.
“It was not sustainable to recruit 400 people in the service. That leads to problems in promotion later, because you can take all 400 at once, but very few of them will get promoted,” the officer said.
But why did the government recruit “jumbo batches” in the past? According to a Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) official, in 2001, the department underwent restructuring. After 2003, the government began recruiting a larger number of IRS officers to fill its vacancies. Almost a decade later, posts were again increased in the department, and the recruitment went further up.
However, in the last few years, most of the vacancies have been filled, and the recruitment has been reduced in order to ensure smooth cadre management, the DoPT official said.
“Now, the government is looking for stability. The idea is not to fill all vacancies at once, but also to manage the cadre. Otherwise you may have a stagnating population of officers with no room for fresh recruitment,” the official said.
“The number of recruitments at this time is not very different from what it was historically. It had increased to cope with the expansion and restructuring in between.”
State of vacancies
The IRS consists of two branches — Income Tax, and Customs and Central Excise — which are controlled by two different statutory bodies, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) respectively.
The former set is responsible for providing assistance to taxpayers, handling cases of income tax frauds and formulating policy on income tax. The latter looks after the Goods and Services tax, matters related to customs, etc.
The sanctioned strength of IRS (IT) officers is 4,914, while that of IRS (C&CE) officers is 5,583. And while there is a well-known shortage of officers at the lower levels of the IT department, according to the DoPT official, there isn’t much of it at the level of Group A officers.
“That is why the vacancies released by the government have reduced to 65 this year, because the shortage at the Group A level is not very high,” the official said.
However, according to government data accessed by ThePrint, while the sanctioned strength of IRS (IT) officers is 4,914, the actual number of officers is 3,216, leaving a shortage of 34.55 per cent. It’s a similar story in the C&CE branch — out of 5,583 sanctioned posts, only 4,172 are filled, as of January 2019.
This, another senior DoPT official said, was due to “widespread computerisation and digitisation”.
“Due to widespread digitisation, computerisation, data networking etc., the government’s requirement for IRS officers has been going down. Besides, with GST coming in, the need for manual intervention has further reduced,” the official said.