The journey into IRS was a long process. Initially, in the year 2007, after graduating in dentistry from the Government Dental College and Hospital Mumbai, I kept practising till 2011. I also worked as a Dental officer for the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Heath Scheme, Ministry of Defense, Government of India and served as the CEO in Nainital and Almora Cantonment zones, in the Indian Defense Estate Service.
There was an inherent drive and desire to work for public service. The scope of dentistry and being a public health professional offers chances to work for the public, but the area of exposure is very limited. Thus began my journey to public service specialization. After clearing the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) examination in the first attempt, I was posted in the Indian Defence Estate Servicedefense of state services, and then gradually into the Income Tax revenue Ddepartment under the Union Ministry of Finance.
Women and breaking barriers:
As a woman, it is so warmly and beautifully mesmerizing to see that so many women are coming out of their cocoons and breaking taboos and stereotypes which the society never thought of. I still see so many magazines featuring women and their success stories in different fields. Gone are the days, when a woman would earn a degree, get a stamp and cook dinner and remain at home. Even in offices and in workplaces, women are leading teams, managing big projects and taking responsible steps.
It has been 5 years in my service and my seniors and subordinates are doing a brilliant job. The way the working of women has changed and it is being clearly represented everywhere. This is because women have a more balanced approach towards their work. Balancing their professional and personal life gives them more power to handle things in a much better way. This is why women have a high EQ(Emotional Quotient) which is seen in most cases because of their balancing outlook. There is lesser discrimination now towards women, and the men are equally cooperative with a woman nowadays, which has created an overall positive atmosphere to work in. This is indeed a path breaking way for the entire society.
Samarpan and COVID Lockdown:
Samarpan is basically the brainchild of my sister Dr Ruma Bhargava who is also a public service worker like me. We both have a similarity, and that is to work for the people of society. She is associated with the International Red Cross Society in Malaysia. So initially, when the decision was taken to do something for the welfare of the citizens, we shortlisted 3 states where we would have an extensive reach: Rajasthan since it is my birthplace and it would be easy to reach out to the people, Maharashtra since I am posted here currently and lastly Uttarakhand since I had been working there during my cantonment days.
So the main target of Samarpan was to focus on two primary areas of livelihood which are education and healthcare. In terms of healthcare we reached out to remote areas which were not even on google maps and ensured that we make healthcare accessible to tribal people, since they are the ones who cannot afford to visit urban areas often and are thus neglected. Right from almost 41 schools to colleges, we installed water purifiers and made primary healthcare available during any emergency.
Another thing we witnessed, was women’s menstrual hygiene which is still a taboo in many areas. Many female students did not have proper sanitation facilities, some had just one uniform and often suffered from various skin infections. This increased the rate of school dropouts. We distributed bio degradable sanitary napkins, conducted workshops to increase overall awareness and to spread information and break rigid ideas and taboos. Also we distributed notebooks, crayons, geometric boxes and gave them more uniforms, so that students would keep coming to schools and would receive their primary education. So far, we have touched the lives of nearly 10,500 children in the government schools of rural India.
The COVID-19 Lockdown has increased their hardships and we are doing much more than what we are doing previously. My batch mate Suresh Kataria who is an IRS officer, assisted me during the journey and almost 40 IRS officers including the BMC(Bombay Municipal Cooperation) and MP (Mumbai Police) extended a lot of support as well. MP have been working with beneficiaries for a long time and we wanted to ensure that our targets were needy people and the ones in distress and not anybody who weren’t in dire need of it.
We started to target different slums including Dharavi and areas nearby and gave out sanitizers’ and masks and other important items to all of them. We also distributed it to different house helps, security guards and other people who are in need of them. Ration kits have been distributed to handicapped people as well. Ration kits consists of all the daily essential grocery items such as rice, pulses, wheat, oils and many more things. Right from the procurement of the food to it’s distribution to people, everything was organized well and the administration and Mumbai Police helped us get through it without any problem.
Recently, Samarpan has started working in Bengaluru as well. 20,000 food kits have already been delivered and we are aiming to reach out to more people. There were so many distress calls coming to us from everywhere, and finally to be able to help them gives a lot of satisfaction and relief. There are elderly people of society and other people who cannot even cook their meals. So we have provided them with cooked meal. Masks and sanitizers were distributed at a mass level. We are also giving food and essential items to Police personnel who risk their lives every day, almost 600 transgenders and sex workers whose livelihood has come to a halt whose daily source of income has stopped. We also reach out to several migrant labourers and various shelter homes and old age home who have no source of funding.
Samarpan has reached out to a wide spectrum of families and it continues to do the same to reach out to maximum number of people in distress.
Due recognition to all the workers during COVID Crisis:
A lot of people are working tirelessly at the frontline during the COVID-19 crisis in the country. Some are in bureaucracy, some are civic workers while some are in healthcare. They are all fighting, risking their lives in order to safeguard lives of people at large. Whether they are people in uniform such as them, or there are many who are constantly working on the frontline without any uniform, they are relentlessly ensuring adequate protection for all.
All sanitation workers and vegetable vendors who are working day and night without any fame or recognition are the ones who are keeping us alive. This pandemic should not just let us realize and respect them more, but we should show respect to all these people throughout our lives. They are going beyond everything just so that we can stay safe and sound. Recognizing their contribution is in terms of the respect we give these people and treat them as human beings is equally as important for ourselves.
Current scenario on Income Tax Returns:
A lot of steps are being taken by the revenue department to simplify the process of taxes. Measures are taken to increase the number of taxes and focus on voluntary compliance of people. People themselves have to realize the bigger picture behind payment of taxes. However the number of ITR files are increasing but people paying taxes have gone down. Therefore citizen friendly measures have been taken to increase voluntary compliance which will reduce human intervention and will allow everything to happen digitally with lesser enforcement on people.
With the advent of technology, processes have been made faster and easier. Over the last 2 years, the entire revenue department has undergone a massive change. A lot of citizen friendly means have been taken up. Since technology is considered to be the antidote to corruption, it is said to increase transparency and timeliness of work too. We have e-assessments or e-scrutiny, which will help people to file their returns online in a much seamless manner. Also online portals such as ‘E-Nivaaran” have been set up to record grievances of the people. These grievances are usually resolved within the shortest time possible.
Overall, a very positive holistic approach is taken to reach out to maximum people possible. Through voluntary compliance methods, minimum enforcement and citizen friendly methods added on with the proper use of technology, the department is already in the process of undergoing a sea change, whose outcome will soon be visible to everyone.
Tax payment in India:
The Income tax policies are determined by the Ministry of Finance and all instructions come from higher levels. All policies are designed to ensure welfare of people and that of the country too. Income tax is basically a progressive and prospective tax which is the most likely thing that happens in the country, when the more one earns, the higher the tax one has to pay. Proper investigation is conducted too see that no person evades taxes and pays their due taxes on time. The target of the revenue department is not to impose any type of hardships on people, but to make sure that people come forward and pay their taxes which are indirectly utilized for nation building.
The middle classes and their taxes:
The entire genre of middle class has been broken down into separate categories. Firstly, there is the salaried class whose TDS gets automatically deducted from their annual salaries. Secondly, there are the start-ups or individual business houses. Depending on their rate of growth, taxes increase accordingly. Many people have a lot of grievances that a lot of money is being given as taxes. We are trying to build a positive approach so that a positive feeling is created amongst individuals related to tax. The responsibility of paying taxes should be realized by every citizen as a contribution towards nation building. A nation is not just constructed and run by government bodies and people. Revenue is the building block. This revenue comes from people who pay their due tax to the government. Therefore, payment of taxes for every citizen is a collective effort by everyone to ensure proper and good development of a nation as well.
Digitization in India :
As we all know, the rural population in India consists 65.97% of the entirepopulation. Yet, rural people are lagging behind in every aspect. The government is trying to reach out to villagers through Bharat Net and enhancing internet connectivity through installing fiber optics cable. But the rural population in India is geographically dense while community wise extremely thick and spread large. Therefore internet penetration is a time consuming affair. The primary focus is to put stress on their health and education, since these two are the vital areas where rural people are not able to be at par with the rest of the population.
Hence, right now we are focusing on digital intervention in rural India, to focus on primary health and education, followed by taxation. As it is rural people have low income, so taxes would impose further hardships on them. As of now we are trying to bridge the gap between information and awareness and people in rural areas. The doctor patient ratio is very poor in rural areas. Out of 20,000 patients we have only 1 doctor, which is very low compared to the WHO terms. So through the internet we are trying to facilitate telemedicine. But the process is very slow, yet taking place gradually.
The revenue department is ideally the most technology driven department and now we have installed all forms for citizen friendly assessments, such as e-scrutiny faceless assessment, Centralised Processing Centre (CPC) and other e portals including CPGRAMS and E-Nivaran to make things easier for the citizens.
Digitization and the lowering scope of Corruption:
As discussed earlier, technology always acts an antidote to corruption. It is known to all that the lesser human interaction we have, the lesser the chances of corruption are. The revenue Department is already a technologically driven department and to increase the transparency of our work we have several citizen friendly tools and e platforms such as e scrutiny, Citizen’s Rights and RTI and several other tools that help to minimize any confusion and reduce human interactions. If there is proper infrastructure, then corruption can be reduced a lot. Also grievance redressal platforms are there so that people can file any complaint during any emergency. For this, we focus on creating proper infrastructure and increasing the general awareness of the people. Therefore, if awareness and dependency on technology and its proper use go hand in hand, then we can curb corruption to a large extent and bring about more transparency in our functioning.