NEW DELHI :
Barely two months after 27 senior Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officers were given early retirement, 22 high-ranking officials of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) were forced to put in their papers for corrupt practices last week, one person aware of the matter said.
The officials have been accused of conducting unauthorized searches and accepting bribes, among other charges. Some of them are also being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), he added.
The CBIC officers were from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Nagpur and Meerut.
In June, 15 CBIC officials and 12 officers from the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) were ‘compulsorily retired’ under the Fundamental Rule 56(J) of Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on charges of extortion, bribery and sexual harassment, among others.
According to the rule, the appropriate authority has the absolute right to retire any government servant by giving at least three months’ notice in writing, or three months’ pay and allowances.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently referred to misuse of power by the ‘black sheep’ in tax administration, who had been harassing taxpayers by targeting honest assessees or taking excessive action for minor violations.
In an interview with The Economic Times newspaper, Modi had said: “We have recently taken the bold step of compulsorily retiring a significant number of tax officials, and we will not tolerate this type of behaviour." Wealth creators should not be doubted and the need of the hour is to recognize, encourage and empower wealth creators of the country, Modi had added.
The steps are in line with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s attempt to project itself as a party that fights graft and takes tough action on the corrupt.
“Corruption and nepotism have damaged our country beyond imagination and entered into our lives like termites. We are continuously trying to weed them out," Modi had said in his Independence Day speech. “There have been successes, but the disease is so deeply entrenched, the disease is so widespread that we have to keep putting in more efforts and, that too, at the entry level, not just at the government level, and we need to keep doing it continuously."
The prime minister’s comments assume significance after the purported note by Café Coffee Day founder V.G. Siddhartha who allegedly committed suicide spoke of harassment by tax officials.
Echoing a similar view, finance minister Nirmala Sitharman on Friday said companies will not face any harassment by tax officials and reiterated that the intention of the government was not to take the prosecution route. Besides, a new system is being set up that will make government officials accountable for their communication with the assessee.
She assured that an oversight or a minor infringement will not be treated as a crime. The finance ministry is also moving towards faceless scrutiny of matters related to income tax. Besides, she said that defaults on corporate social responsibility- related obligations will be treated as ‘civil liability’ instead of a criminal offence. Ved Jain, former president of accounting rule maker Institute of Chartered Accountants of India said the government has sent out a strong message to the bureaucracy against corruption, and that they can be shunted out if caught. “There are two messages over here—one is against integrity and other is obedience," he added.