'IRS officers are the country's financial policemen'

'IRS officers are the financial policemen of the country'

Path to Civils

Jayaram Raipura

Jayaram Raipura is a Commissioner of income tax in-charge of international tax appeals in Bangalore. With several decades of experience in the Indian Revenue Service, Raipura has also been actively involved in the cultural scene in Karnataka. He speaks to DH’s Prajwal Suvarna about his experience and work as an IRS officer.

What prompted you to join the Civil Services? Did you want to join the IRS?

The post of the district magistrate or superintendent of police is always a very attractive proposition for boys from small towns and I was no exception. Civil Service was very attractive from a very young age and I wanted to be an IAS officer and come back to Mysuru as a district collector.

Based on my ranking [in the UPSC], I wasn’t getting the administrative service. At the same time, I was not interested in going and serving in other states. I was deeply interested in Kannada literature and culture and wanted to come back and work in these fields.

Once I got into the revenue service in my first attempt, I got to know that only 1/6th of candidates who get into IAS can go back to the home state. The Revenue Service gave me the opportunity of serving in Karnataka, as well as outside, which suited my desires.

Did the atmosphere at JNU help with exam preparation? Was there a culture shock?

There is a big difference between South India and North India, But in terms of adjusting there [at JNU], it was just a matter of months. And of course, JNU is a very liberal campus — one of the best student campuses in the country. So it was not difficult to adjust.

Preparing for the civil service is not just about knowledge, but also an attitude.

The whole mission is to understand things that prepare for that service. So the activities at the University meant it automatically became a training ground.

A lot of people were studying civil services in JNU, which was a big benefit for me.

Any tips on preparing for the exams?

In the descriptive examination, keep in mind that it is not a bureaucrat who is evaluating your answer script. It is actually a professor in one of the leading universities. This professor is looking for something more than the model answer. So you should try and satisfy the academic and intellectual understanding of that person. You should have an original opinion of your own and bring it into the answer, so the evaluator is satisfied on the merits of your argument and the answer’s originality.

The interviewers are not testing your knowledge, but how you face the situation and express yourself. You have to have a positive mindset, you should be people-oriented. You should allow these positive aspects to show up in your interview. Even though the interview is only for half an hour, it does bring out your personality and what you are made of.

Preparing for civil service exam is not just about knowledge, but also an attitude. The whole mission is to understand what is required to be a civil servant and prepare for the same. Activities at the Jawaharlal Nehru University automatically became a training ground for me. A lot of other students were studying for civil services in JNU, and their companionship was of immense benefit to me.

How is the IRS different?

IRS is a central service. Just like the police tackle blue collar crimes, the IRS handles white collar crimes. We are the financial policemen of the country. In addition to administering the income tax act, any financial crime in the country is investigated by the revenue service.

So we are the only service with a very deep understanding of the businesses, of the commercial practices of various entities.

We man a whole lot of departments, including the Enforcement Directorate, Serious Fraud Investigation office, Income Tax Office etc.

It is a sensitive posting but not necessarily politically sensitive. You are supposed to do the job in a professional manner but you shouldn’t be influenced by the politics of the day.

How often do you go on raids or conduct investigations? Is the reality of the job different from its depiction in the media?

The raids and investigations are the glamorous part of the job.

But actually, we are the gatekeepers of the country. Every time money comes in or goes out, we are responsible. There are also audits and assessments. These are not glamorous duties but it has to be done.

The work is deeply satisfying. When you read a balance sheet, a profit and loss statement, or an income tax return, it is actually like reading a story.

There is a daily struggle to earn money or survive. And interacting with so many people behind those tax statements or financial numbers is a humbling experience.

There is also a lot of file work and investigation into income tax evasion, a lot of notices are sent out, rebutted and countered. People are called and their statements recorded.

That ultimately leads to an assessment order of a company or individual.

That assessment order is in turn challenged before various appellate forums. Consider us to be a quasi-judicial service.

So only 5 - 10 per cent of the job involves going into the field but the remaining 90 per cent involves calling people, taking statements, examining witnesses and coming to judgements in the form of assessment order.

Are you trained in accounting or is that something you pick up on the job?

There is a 20-month long training programme because most of us do not come from an accounting or financial background. There are doctors and engineers and arts graduates. But at the same time, we also bring diversity into the service, which is important.

How has the IRS adapted to the digital age?

We were one of the earliest departments to have taken to digitisation. Since 1994, we have taken to digitisation and automating our processes. We have had various software written by TCS and Infosys. We have the best network, the best back-end in the country.

The front end has also been good but it has also been criticised. This is because the income tax act is one of the most complicated acts in the country. Distilling it into a simple computerised format is not easy.

You are also quite active in the cultural scene. How have you made time for this?

During my college days, I was very active. When you are in the junior level in the service, there is a lot of pressure. When I was in the investigation wing, we had to go at 6.30 am in the morning. Almost every second day there was some search or the other, and we had to come back at 1 am in the night.

So that used to be the routine. Obviously no writing could be done, but I have kept up my reading over the last 25 years. I started writing five years back. I have written plays now and they have also been successful.

You are compelled to have a distinction between your profession and your passion. But one should not give up on your passion altogether.

(Path to Civils is a fortnightly series featuring interviews with exemplary officers from the civil services who share their perspectives about preparing for the exams and working in government service)

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