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EDITOR's KEYBOARD - FROM ARCHIVE

Quitting IRS - State Govts offer challenging turf for development-minded doers - A case study of Aman Singh!
By Shailendra Kumar, Founder Editor (Dated: July 08, 2010)
Sep 09, 2019

RECENTLY, while addressing the CCITs' annual gathering in New Delhi, the Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, said:

''A satisfied work force is the backbone and strength of an organization. We have modified the transfer policy for the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officers to improve satisfaction levels and minimise unwarranted service litigation with our own employees. The Standing Committee on Finance, in its report for 2009-10, has expressed concern about shortages of manpower in the Department. This needs to be addressed urgently, especially in the face of the exponentially increasing workload, and the challenges of maximising revenue generation along with efficient taxpayer service...  The tax laws can be implemented effectively by aligning the tax administration with the intent of tax policy.  If there is a mismatch, then it may be difficult to implement a tax policy, however good it may be... In the long term, we should aim for Human Resource policy.''

These words of the Finance Minister which were repeated at another annual gathering of Chief Commissioners and Directors General of CBEC in the National Capital recently, portray the forlorn picture of manpower shortage and stinkingly rising graph of litigation between the Revenue Boards and their own employees. The FM uttered these words while talking about the continuing tax reforms. In other words, for the first time, any Finance Minister put the problems of workforce at par with other components of tax reforms. HR Policy was, for the first time, given its rightful place on the large canvas of tax reforms in the country.

Netizens may recall when Mr Pallaniappan Chidambaram had come out with a New Transfer Policy, it had triggered a virtual exodus of officers from the Department. There were a few starred questions in the Parliament, and it was stated on the floor of the House that those who had left the Govt merely constituted one per cent of the 7000-strong Group A workforce of the Revenue Services. In terms of percentage the FM was right but in terms of numerics, it looked unprecedented and provoked. Then came a series of amendments in the New Transfer Policy and also a major jump in the salary as a consequence to the acceptance of the Pay Commission's recommendations. Most observers had felt that the hike in the salary would decelerate the exodus. But it is only partly true. Officers in bunches continue to quit revenue jobs even today. What could be the reasons?

The reasons are indeed a mixed bag. There are many who have managed to bargain a better package in the private sector particularly after the Pay Commission-sponsored hike. There are some who have left Govt jobs for both the money as well as satisfaction. And there is also a third lot which is led by persons like Mr Aman Singh, a 1995 Batch officer of the IRS (Customs & Central Excise). This lot has been busy acquiring a variety of skills and expertise in technical areas other than revenue collections. And finally, many of the officers who could be bracketed in this category, have indeed positioned themselves as professionals of enviable trackrecord and highly-priced quality tag.

But the case of Mr Aman Singh qualifies to be a little more inspiring and 'abnormal' than even the third category. Unlike many IRS officers who bagged better assignments in the private sector or 'Big Fours', he chose to remain within the realm of government and then positioned himself as a hardcore professional and domain expert rather than a career bureaucrat. He simply changed his turf from the Central Govt to State Govt which most Central Services officers never attempt to do. Going to a State is generally perceived as a step 'backward'! In fact, IRS officers like other Central Services officers never look at themselves as the one who could make meaningful and tangible contribution to the process of development at the real grass-root level in a backward state.

But Mr Aman Singh chose to board the State bureaucracy bandwagon, dominated and ruled by IAS with ruthless hand. He went to the State of Chhatisgarh as Secretary to the Chief Minister. He soon impressed the entire State bureaucracy with his talent in the areas of IT and energy. He was given independent charge of CHiPS (Chhatisgarh Infotech Promotion Society). His work was immediately recognised by the UNDP which conferred UNDP Human Development Award to the State. The Award was received by Mr Singh in New York in 2007. His pioneering work in Information Technology was quickly recognised by the UN and other reputed bodies across the globe. IIT-Kanpur was the first to pick him up for its Board of Governors. He became a popular and enchanting speaker at various awe-inspiring institutions like IIMs, Administrative Staff College of India, NISG, IIFT etc. He is now a well known e-governance and e-commerce expert. But ironically, he was never invited by his own academy - NACEN, Faridabad, to share his story with IRS probationers.

Mr Singh is at present Secretary in the rank of Commissioner in Revenue Boards to the Chief Minister of Chhatisgarh. He also has independent charge as Secretary, IT, Energy, Biotechnology and CEO of Chhatisgarh Renewable Energy Development Agency. His resignation was recently accepted by the CBEC as the Central Govt rules did not permit him to continue with the State Govt on deputation beyond certain time limit. He has now positioned himself as a professional having expertise in IT, energy and biotechnology. He is not only fit to be picked up by any MNC or a desi corporate house to head one of large corporate entities but can also become Secretary (Power) tomorrow if the Central Govt looks for a hardcore professional to spearhead the energy planning of the country.

Mr Singh's evolution from a revenue officer into an energy and IT expert should be seen as an example which may be emulated by young and talented IRS officers who only need to look beyond their Central Govt jobs and revenue collections and may decide to be a participant at the grass-roots level development work in the country. State Govts do offer an attractive optional turf for Central Services officers who have so far not considered it as a viable deputation post or one can even risk quitting and joining the State like Mr Singh in the rank of a Secretary.

Mr Singh's story also shatters the popular myth that only IAS officers can excel in developmental works done at the grass-root level. Even others from any other service in the Govt or even private sector may prove to be an effective doer for a State Govt if one gets an opportunity. Another myth which his case again shatters is that others cannot survive in an IAS bastion! That may not be always true as Mr Singh has many allies and well wishers in the IAS cadre who appreciate his work. True, it may be tough but it is not impossible. The nation today needs positive and development-minded doers, no matter which sector one may be working with. The third myth is further broken that private sector only offers healthy and encouraging opportunities to do something extraordinary. Even States and local bodies offer a lot of opportunities as long as one is driven by the fire to create institutions and community assets to help the nation and the vox populi at large. Let's hope all those who have been quitting Central Govt jobs do take a proper look at States as a reliable and viable turf to experiment with one's development-oriented creative ideas.