Why restrict the sacks to IT Department?

Last week the Government compulsorily retired (read dismissed) fifteen more senior income tax officials. Officers of the rank of principal commissioner, commissioner, joint, assistant, deputy assistant commissioner, etc., belonging to the Indian Revenue Service were fired under the Fundamental Rule 56-J. Some of these officers were asked to go on grounds of corruption and some were actually caught taking bribes by the CBI and were sent packing home. Additional grounds for dismissal was rank inefficiency and lack of performance. With last week’s dismissals, the total number of senior IT officials retired compulsorily exceeds 60. Some days ago, the Prime Minister had publicly warned that the black sheep in the tax administration who harass taxpayers would no longer be tolerated. Among the first lot of dismissals had figured some very notorious names of income tax commissioners who were widely known to be corrupt.

At least a couple of them challenged their dismissal in courts but failed to get any relief. It is because the highest court in the land had duly upheld the validity of Fundamental Rule 56(j) which regulates the service conditions of government servants belonging to Group A, B and C. Along with Rule 48 (1) of the Pension Rules, 1972, officers who joined government service before the age of 35 years and have attained the age of 50 years, and in other cases, age of 55 years, or have completed 30 years in service, can be retired compulsorily after periodic inquiries and reviews of their performance. Such dismissals are allowed in public interest. The surprising thing is that the above provisions have been part of the service rules of public servants for ages but no government before the current one had cared to use them to weed out the corrupt or the inefficient. Even when some black sheep in the IT department had acquired public notoriety the government failed to wield the available tools at its disposal to axe them. Quite a few blackmailer IT officers had routinely extorted money even from honest tax-payers on threats of prosecution on false grounds. The rare ones who refused to succumb to their threats had to face trouble on frivolous charges. Happily, a couple of such officers were thrown out in the first installment of dismissals. 

A notable point is that the Modi Government in its first term failed to invoke the above rules to dismiss corrupt income tax officials. Why it didn’t do so is not known, but it did amend the above rules to make it easier for it to take disciplinary action against the errant officers. Hopefully, the recent dismissals of their colleagues will send a salutary message to the entire income tax department. Instead of harassing honest assesses or making a mountain out of a minor lag or flaw in the income tax returns, IT officials need to adopt a cooperative attitude towards tax-payers. If it is wrong on the part of the assessees to believe that all IT officers are corrupt, it is equally wrong for IT officials to treat all tax-payers as ‘thieves’.

Meanwhile, the question that needs to be asked of the government is as to why the provisions of the same Fundamental Rule 56 (j) have not been used to discipline government servants in other departments, especially those in departments dealing directly with the people. Why should, for instance, those in-charge of overseeing urban development and building construction, be spared for the widespread flagrant violations of relevant laws. Why cannot a mechanism be evolved to penalize corrupt civic bureaucracies which allow greedy builders and others to distort urban landscape through excessive construction far above the sanctioned limits. Whatever rule is relevant in their case, shouldn’t it be invoked to make good the prime minister’s promise to rid the land of corrupt bureaucrats, junior or senior.

The point is simple. Unless public servants get the message that they can lose their jobs if they are found lining their pockets with illicit lucre, they are unlikely to change their corrupt ways. They too need to be immediately shown the door. We can commend the government for belatedly relying on a rule which had for decades been part of the statute book to rid the system of taxation of corrupt officers. Now the cleansing of other wings of the government must begin in right earnest. We cannot wait for big municipal corporations such as those in Mumbai and Delhi to wield the big axe to weed out the corrupt from their rolls. Law-abiding citizens wait for the day when petty corruptions and delays will not blight their lives.

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