Somesh Arora: Keep your fingers crossed for GST launch

Whether the rate of 12 per cent of GST proposed with 5 per cent for Central component had the approval of the Central Excise authorities or was the brainchild of only one or two members of the Task Force on GST, is not free from doubt. The state governments are, of course, pitching for higher rate fearing loss of revenue to them.

The thinktank within the CBEC is of the view that the low rate of 5 per cent will lead to a massive revenue gap, if their calculations are to be believed. Surely a case of house divided on the top. How the FM finally resolves the issue remains to be seen. Pink press, being a darling of the Corporate, was, however quick to lap up the news and hail it as a step positive.. But the tax collecting department which has to eventually deliver is having the nightmares, as it has not even been involved in discussions leading to going to press over the rate structure. The way things are moving on GST, the FM may well be advised to perform some Homa and look for proper Muhurta for launch of GST.

Needed: code of conduct for investigative officers

Six officers of DGCEI being summoned for manhandling an alleged offender in his hideout surely made news. As the court has taken cognizance of the matter, the facts leading to the matter should not be discussed. But what is a point of debate is whether use of any kind of force should be adopted by investigating officers against the accused, some of whom may be hardened evaders or criminals, in their knowledge as Intelligence officers. No for sure, except in self-defence. But in sensitive matters like these, the facts need a hard look and scrutiny, as any hasty action can be demoralizing for the agencies but inaction can encourage more use of such force. Therefore, the departmental authorities should wait for court’s verdict before taking any action and precipitating the matter.

Let us not forget that there have been incidents in the past  and the one that comes to mind easily is when a senior officer of a premier agency of the Department was framed in a bribery case by involving another agency in Bangalore by a smuggler and it was the resistance of a brave Additional Director

General which brought out the truth in open and led to the honour of the officer being restored.

Further, it is high time that CBEC formulated a ‘code of conduct’ for investigating officers and introduced a column relating to rating on observance of human right in the ACRs of investigating officers. This would give a message across the board to everyone that winds of change are blowing and that CBEC is serious about compliance of human rights.

There has to be a break from the past at some point of history. Today we have a suitable climate for the same, as in the light of liberalization, tribunal and Apex Court have started holding more and more cases in favour of the Department and view deliberate violations of tax laws seriously and evaders are not able to get away simply on the basis of technicalities or benefit of doubts in the matter of evidence on the civil side. The Department can afford to make voluntary statements really voluntary. Investigating agencies overseas are using video recording devices to show that statements given were really voluntary and credible. Something similar can be started by premier investigating agencies under CBEC. If the past has been full of leniency, a few cannot be suddenly picked up for very harsh action. CBEC should rather use it as an opportunity for setting the future right and conveying its message across strongly to avoid recurrence if the facts do eventually so point out, or else those who have wronged the officers must be exposed thoroughly.

 

Whether cameras in docks and air cargos?

While being on the topic of video filming, it has always surprised me that even when Customs areas like airports, which have little revenue earning potential, have cameras focused on baggage examiners, why is it that in the examining areas of docks and air cargo such examination is not done in front of cameras. A number of cases investigated by Custom agencies pertain to misdescription of goods for which evidence can always be made available if the cargo is examined in front of the eye of the camera. This will provide evidence for posterity and make systems like RMS more effective and collusion, etc. really difficult. Well, it needs will to put a good suggestion to implementation and just one word to rubbish it. 

Return of a Deputy Commissioner

A Deputy Commissioner in charge of a SEZin Chandigarh, who is back from MOC to MOF, is at his wit’s end to understand as to why he was sent back: Was it on completion of his tenure or because he dared a particular corporate group to pay for not revealing all the facts to Board of Approval, thereby extracting undue duty benefits.

Let us see how his own Ministry and Department treat him now. If he is dumped here also, it may be a case of “Na khuda hi mila, na visale sanam, Na idhar ke rahe na udhar ke hum”.

SEZs: Main Chup rahoonga

SEZs are turning out to be what ICDs were in the past decade -- approved with much fanfare, denotified at leisure by MOC. Extensions for some of the officers who believed that so many will succeed on ground as well as for the projects to be developed seem to be engaging MOC. But there are also brave hearts who are still continuing to seek approvals. The new Minister wisely maintains a stoic silence on the subject and all talks of revenue loss by the Ministry of Finance has gradually died because no one knows what will be actual figure on ground. What was a great success in 70`s need not be so in 21st century. A vintage car is better not run on an expressway.

 RTI restraint

A crash course on how to reply RTIs will do revenue officers a lot of good. Otherwise known for their well reasoned orders (generally thanks to good Inspectors or Superintendents in Adjudication Branch), these unaided CPIOs at times exhibit quite an ignorance of the RTI Act and only enable to increase the burden on appellate authorities under the Act. Till now it was only Right of Information to about 700-odd MPs which was engaging the Government Servants, now it can be more than one billion Indians. Surely a Herculean task to keep people happy, especially when some of the applicants like to make petitions which are as long as G. T. Road. At this rate, the only task with Public servants will be to do no work and then keep on explaining through RTIs as to why they did not work. Surely, it is also the duty of RTI applicants to act with a sense of responsibility and restraint and not to misuse the privilege so deservingly procured..