Importance of Technology in Public Service

Rajiva Ranjan Singh, IRS (Income Tax)

 

A student of Botany joined Indian Revenue Service (IRS) some 50 years back.

 

I can equally divide my work experience into three areas, namely, Tax Administration, Foreign Trade and Information & Communication Technology (11 years as Commissioner in charge of Systems)

 

My first exposure to computer was in 1971 through a week’s training in gathering biodata of Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officers for being put in the Personnel Management System on computers. IRS was probably the second service after IAS whose biodata was being put on computers for better career planning, training and postings. Then first-generation computers were used by government which used to be run on Vacuum Tubes and Valves and data entry was through punch cards. On account of my exposure to computers and the system I was posted as Under Secretary, Career Management Unit in the Ministry of Finance in 1975. During my one-year stint I could update the data base of IRS officers which had become outdated. I was impressed with the responses to queries of the system in selecting officers for posting, training and deputations. But those were early days for computers, and no one used the excellent facilities of computers on account of various reasons. I got frustrated in one year and got transferred to Ministry of Commerce from where I got posted to Tokyo, Japan on an export promotion job in 1978 for three years. During my stay in Japan I was impressed by their work culture, concept of zero error and loyalty to their company and nation. I saw extensive use of computers in Japanese language script even though Personal Computers were yet to make its appearance.

 

During 1977-78 all big computer companies, such as, IBM, ICL etc. were asked to wind up their operations in India and strict control on import of larger computers were imposed. Personal Computers (PCs) made its appearance in 1981. Use of Personal Computers in India started in 1985-86. Intel 486 chip-based PC Servers were introduced in 1989.

 

When I came back to India in 1981, based on my experience abroad, I wrote an article for adopting a single national identity for all citizens of India to be used for all purposes and sent it to Times of India, Delhi. The article was returned with a typed slip saying they do not find the article suitable for publication.

 

The Indian Income tax Department under Ministry of Finance, based on a study by the Computer Maintenance Corporation (CMC), set up 36 computer centres during 1985-1989 all over the country. Unfortunately, due to government policy of that time only smaller computers (minicomputers) were available and these standalone computers were used at 36 islands of computer centres as calculators and typewriters only and no databases of taxpayers or the work done on computers were created. There was no national or even computer centre-wise data bases. The status of then computerisation is part of the C&AG’s systems audit report.

 

Realising the need for a willing person to work for at least three years for success of computerisation in the Income Tax Department, I volunteered in 1991 to take over as Commissioner in-charge of computerisation. Within six months I was shifted out from the post on account my difference of opinion about needs for centralised data bases using larger and more powerful computers as against recommendations of the government’s premiere nodal computerisation department for 28 numbers of PC-486 Servers for just two cities of Delhi and Mumbai and that too without creating any database at national or regional level.

 

I was brought back as Commissioner in-charge of computerisation in 1993. Based on our 1993 report, comprehensive computerisation was implemented in the entire Income Tax Department from 1995. In keeping with available data communication network in the country, we introduced creation of national and regional databases based on one single integrated application software with 11 modules from 1995, initially, in the cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai and later all over the country from 1998. In 1993 I got an opportunity for implementing a single national ID for all citizens. I conceptualised and implemented an all India unique taxpayer identification number known as Permanent Account Number (PAN) which was introduced in 1995. The PAN proposed in 1993 was capable of covering the entire population of the country apart from all other legal entities and was proposed to be used as national I D for all the citizens on lines of Social Security Number (SSN) of USA, National Insurance Number (NINO) of UK etc. The PAN has stood the test of time and ensured absolute uniqueness (except cases of deliberate over-ride and feeding of wrong data in initial years. This was also stopped from 2003 when proof of identity and residence was introduced). The biometrics features, which could ensure 99.9% uniqueness, could not be built into PAN on account of very costly proprietary biometric technology and costly hard disk for storage of images in 1994-95. In fact, from 1998 onward, PAN has been used as Common Business Number by half a dozen government departments (such as, Customs, Central Excise, Service Tax, DGFT, SEBI and now even GST). There was no need for Aadhar as PAN was capable of covering the entire population of the country. The agency mandated by the Planning Commission for suggesting unique I D for the country, erroneously stated that PAN was only for income taxpayers. They ignored the fact that legally anyone could obtain PAN. It was always so and as will be apparent from the fact that today there are only less than 7 crore taxpayers as against 42 crore PAN holders. National and regional data bases on taxpayer registration, tax collection, returns and assessment, tax deduction, tax personnel and other systems were created. Filing of tax deduction at source (TDS) returns on digital media (Floppies and CDs) were introduced back in 1998-99. Steps for creating a single national database for all taxpayers and applications was initiated.

 

I moved out as Commissioner in-charge of computerisation after 11 years in 2001 on my promotion as Chief Commissioner of Income tax. Centralised processing of returns of salaried taxpayers, constituting 1/3rd of Mumbai taxpayers, was successfully implemented during 2003-05. Electronic filing of tax returns by corporate taxpayers was introduced all over India under my guidance in 2006.

 

Today, as a result of the approach for a single national database with one single integrated application software and electronic filing of returns, 99% of the taxpayer returns, all tax payments, all returns of tax deduction and collection at source, statement of financial transaction or reportable account in respect of specified financial transactions are filed electronically. The number of Permanent Account Number (PAN) allotted so far is 42 crores. All returns of income are processed at Centralised Processing Centre, Bengaluru and TDS and TCS returns at Ghaziabad. This has eliminated person to person contact in 99 % of the cases and thus complaints of harassments. These days 95% of taxpayers are receiving their refund or tax demands within matter of weeks from the date of filing returns. Those 5% taxpayers, whose cases could not be settled, have to face the hassle of face to face dealings with tax officials. One can say with certainty that 95% corruption has been eliminated in the tax department. The centralised data base of all taxpayers has helped create 360-degree profile of each person and resulted in considerable increase in number of taxpayers in the last three years. These centralised databases along with data on demonetisation are likely to result in further widening of tax base.

 

I had worked for the government for nearly 38 years with a major portion of it with the tax department which has comparatively negative public perception of its working. But my experience with officers and staff of the Income Tax Department is diametrically opposite. My 15 years working in the computer set up at the national level and the centralised processing centre at Mumbai has shown that it is failure of higher management in motivating their officers and staff in giving their best. I found that over the time commitment of the officers and staff to work resulted in several fold increase in productivity and improvement in work culture due to rule/process-based implementation and working, recognition and motivation provided to the Departmental staff. I am proud of all our officers and staff and I have very high regard for them.

 

Internationally, after retirement, I assisted Income Tax Department of Nepal in introduction of Permanent Account Number and implemented Taxpayer Identification Number for Federal and 36 State Governments of Nigeria as World Bank Project Advisor. As Asian Development Bank Consultant, modernised the tax administration of Kyrgyz Republic from the stage of system study to procurement of hardware, network infrastructure and software products and development and implementation of software. I also developed the Strategic ICT Plan for the Tax Committee of Republic of Tajikistan.

 

My experience in working in tax departments of India, Nigeria, Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan and close working relations with tax departments of Canada, UK, USA, Australia etc. has clearly demonstrated existence two different worlds of developing and developing countries. While in developing countries tax offices are crowded with taxpayers like in fish market, in tax offices of developed countries there are hardly any taxpayer being called or visiting tax offices. The developed countries, with the help of technology and taxpayer friendly attitude of treating the taxpayers as clients or customers provide efficient and non-adversarial services. On the other hand, in developing countries, taxpayers are treated as suspect. Experience in other successful tax administrations and India demonstrates use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has ensured transparency, accuracy, increased productivity, better service and most importantly led to elimination or reduction in man to man contact and thus removing or reducing harassment and corruption. However, there is still a need for attitudinal change of Indian tax officials to treat taxpayers as client or customer.

 

I had used my experience to carry out research and cross-country comparisons in the area of tax administration and computerisation since 2011, the outcome in form of technology- based solutions, among others, have been published in the form of seven books.

 

Though nothing to do with technology but only administration I could not resist from stating that competence of officers is recognised in government irrespective of service, State or any consideration. Based on the proactive approach, support and guidance from my senior supervisory officers and my experience I feel senior officers have great responsibility in moulding the career of young officers and staff and the administration of any Department. This can be done by:

 

  1. a) Empowering juniors by training, exposure, delegating and sending juniors to head/ lead from the forefront within India and abroad and need for extensive travel;

 

  1. b) Identifying right person for the right job at the right time;

 

  1. c) Building expertise by allowing long tenure to persons having aptitude and expertise and discontinuing rotational transfers;

 

  1. d) Experience of working in other Ministries and organizations results in enhancing and exposing officers to various aspects of administration, trade and industry. This also engenders trust in the system, stakeholders and businesses

 

  1. e) In my entire career of 38 years I never failed to get any financial sanctions or suffered for lack of funds in India or abroad. This can be ensured by allowing long tenure for officers (minimum 5 years), plan for approval of proposals, projects and schemes in advance, and prepare sound and self-contained proposals, ensure advance planning by providing for at least token provision in budget, if not for the e full amount,

 

  1. f) Successful and time bound project implementation require substantial time for detailed planning and documentation at all stages

 

  1. g) Always deal with the top people by signing of contracts with CMD/CEO. This ensures that lower down people will never take you lightly or do shoddy work. Involvement of top management ensures success of the project.

 

 

 

 

 

Published by
Officers IAS Academy – Best IAS Coahing in Chennai.

 

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