Modi govt junks seniority, deputes IAS officers to screen IRS ‘contenders’ for apex Income Tax Dept body CBDT

NH EXCLUSIVE: A Committee of IAS officers this week will interview 19 senior IRS officers before making recommendations to the ACC, which till now notified appointment of Members on basis of seniority

Modi govt junks seniority, deputes IAS officers to screen IRS ‘contenders’ for apex Income Tax Dept body CBDT

Rahul Gul

Three new Members of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) for the first time will be screened first by a committee of IAS officers and not notified on the basis of seniority by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC).

The move to ask 19 ‘contenders’, all senior IRS officers in the rank of Principal Chief Commissioners and Principal Directors General of Income Tax, to appear before an interview board comprising Secretaries, said senior Income Tax Department officers, is unprecedented.

There is resentment among IRS cadre with a few retired officers describing the development as demeaning.

As per a news agency report, a Committee of Secretaries (CoS) headed by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba and comprising Principal Secretary to Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, Revenue Secretary and Secretary, Department of Personnel and Training Secretary, is scheduled to meet 19 ‘contenders’ for three vacant posts of Members in the CBDT on July 29 and July 30.

“After the two days of scheduled interviews, CoS will send in their recommendation along with minutes of meeting to the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC). After that, ACC will announce the names for the posts which generally takes one to two months to finalise,” the report said, quoting a government source.

Senior retired and serving IRS officers who spoke to National Herald on the condition of anonymity due to fear of administrative backlash, pointed out that the CBDT Chairman and Members have always been appointed on the basis of seniority in the IRS Civil List with the ACC giving its stamp of approval, unless there were serious ‘adverse’ reports against such officers.

Incidentally, the ACC is now composed of only the PM (who acts as chairman) and the Minister of Home Affairs. Traditionally, the Minister in charge of the concerned ministry – in this case, the Finance Minister – would be part of the Committee, but this system was junked by the Central government on July 14, 2016.

“It is preposterous that a Committee of Secretaries will ‘interview’ senior IRS officers to ‘select’ CBDT Members. This is as if they are fresh college graduates applying for some private job. All such eligible officers would have served the nation for over 30 years, discharging crucial functions as tax administrators and quasi-judicial authorities to maximise collection of revenue for the exchequer through various ways and means including collection of intelligence on black money and cracking down on defaulters,” said an aggrieved official.

“They often serve in mofussils and small towns without basic facilities such as earmarked residential houses. Now when they are at the pinnacle of their career, they are being made to appear for an ‘interview’ before IAS officers, who in many cases may be their batchmates or even juniors. This is unacceptable,” a retired IRS officer who served as Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (CCIT) and Cadre Controlling Authority (CCA) in charge of Western Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand said.

A senior officer serving in a field formation of the department’s Investigation wing, who agreed to speak only through encrypted messaging app Signal in view of the Pegasus spyware allegations and surveillance concerns, said that the latest development will only further demoralise the IRS cadre.

“Even some other decisions by the government have led to a lot of heartburn and resentment among the IRS fraternity. This included extensions given to not one but two officers serving as CBDT Chairman, Sushil Chandra and PC Modi. This blocked promotion avenues for dozens of eligible senior officers, who were not able to reach the zenith of their careers. Last year in July, SK Gupta, a Member of CBDT, was ‘reappointed’ when he retired, which is unheard of. Even now, we don’t have a full-time Chairman, with a Member, JB Mohapatra holding additional charge,” he said.

A senior retired IRS officer, who didn’t even want her last posting revealed, said that the development were worrisome and even otherwise, there seemed to be a total governance and policy-making paralysis at the Centre.

“This is ironic, as the BJP rode to power alleging ‘policy paralysis’ on part of the UPA government. But this govt does not even take routine decisions, partly because of total reliance on top bureaucracy in PMO. I’ll give you some glaring examples as I habitually track developments in the department,” she said.

“The govt promoted two dozen Principal Commissioners on December 30, 2020. But the newly-promoted Chief Commissioners were not given any posting for 7 months, with the posting orders issued finally on July 26 this year. Moreover, several Chief Commissioners are holding additional charges with several posts lying vacant. Also, in April, 2021, a large number of officers were promoted as Commissioner, but they are still awaiting posting orders,” she said.

Modi govt junks seniority, deputes IAS officers to screen IRS ‘contenders’ for apex Income Tax Dept body CBDT
Modi govt junks seniority, deputes IAS officers to screen IRS ‘contenders’ for apex Income Tax Dept body CBDT

“This is unheard of and highly de-motivating for the concerned officers and cadre as a whole. The frustration among officers will only manifest itself in poor revenue collection and assessment work will suffer,” she said.

Another retired officer opined that this and other developments reinforced the general impression that the PMO is running the show, with the help of IAS officers. "The system is completely centralised, akin to how CMs are all powerful in the states, with their ministerial colleagues hardly having any say in day-to-day running of the government," he said.

A phone call was made by National Herald to General Secretary of IRS Association Prashant Bhushan for the body's views on the issue, but he declined to do so, saying he had ‘no comments’.

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Published: 27 Jul 2021, 3:08 PM