The Results-Framework Document (RFD) for Excise & Taxation 2013-2014, Government of Haryana, states:
Vision: To provide a sound financial base to the State by recommending and collecting taxes which are considered as progressive by the tax payers
Mission: To operate a tax administration which is responsive to the needs of the honest tax payers; frame policies which are simple, transparent and easy to understand; an environment having maximum self-compliance; and to bring all services on e-portal by 31st December 2014
The Department states that its objective is to maximise tax collection, conduct audit & assessment, discourage tax evasion, to ensure full implementation of Government's Excise Policy, to introduce knowledge management in tax administration. All of these are crucial and critical for the government.
The Excise department is an important arm of government that plays a very crucial role in implementing tax collection, which in turn is used for funding various social and infrastructure development related projects.
Public perception of the Excise department in Haryana
The department must be viewed at all times, as being a representative of the people and one that acts to serve in the best interests of both, the people and government. Unfortunately, this crucial department is viewed with suspicion, fear and loathe and the blame for this must lie with the department.
There are two perspectives to this. From the department's point of view, it is mandated to carry out checks on business establishments and ensure compliance of tax payments due to the government. More often than not, businessman and companies resort to all kinds of means to try and avoid paying taxes.
Therefore, when the excise officials visit, they are viewed with fear, as many are guilty of tax evasion and fear getting caught. It's a thankless job that does not win them friends or much appreciation from the business community. But it's a job that must be done.
On the other hand, the perspective from the business side is that the excise officials resort to unnecessary harassment with the objective of collecting higher bribes. The bigger the evasion, the bigger the bribe. Therefore, the feeling of fear and loathe.
The excise officials often threaten them with court cases that will result in heavy fines, imprisonment and a lot of harassment in the process, therefore, force the businessman to pay a bribe and settle the matter at a lower fine.
There may be a bit of truth on both sides. The department in Haryana has not done much to allay this reputation, as time and again, excise officials have been caught red handed, so much so that the fact that one's relative is working in excise department evokes envy from people, as they assume that the family would be very rich. As usually is the case, a few bad apples bring a bad name to the entire department.
Then again, the statistics also point out to suspicious results. Take a look at the same RFD 2013-2014 and refer to Section 3, Discourage Tax Evasion; the number of tax evasion cases detected as a percentage of the number of checking done for the year FY 11-12 was 15%. The very next year i.e. FY 12-13, the figure jumps sharply to 69.81%. Thereafter, the target figure was 75% (FY 13-14) and 85% is projected for (FY 14-15).
This only raises suspicion of why did the department only achieve 15% in FY 11-12? Was it because cases were settled by other means or was it that they simply were inefficient? The question becomes all the more relevant in light of the fact that the very next year the figure shot up to 69.81%. That's very good but how does the performance jumped so dramatically in one year?
Any feedback, especially from factory owners, will tell you that they have had to regularly pay excise officials. The department has only itself to blame for this.
One area that has caused a lot of damage to the reputation has been the existence of illegal and legal liquor vends, all across the state. Here again, it is a well-known fact that it was the excise department looking the other way, which resulted in the sharp increase in illegal liquor outlets in Haryana. This, along with the fact that there has been a lot of liquor smuggling out of Haryana wherein liquor is illegally taken out of the state, has not helped in building a positive reputation for the department.
Had the officials been efficient and honest, this would never have reached a stage where the Punjab & Haryana High Court had to step in and order the state government to remove all legal and illegal vends from the highways.
Unfortunately, a large part of the blame also lies with the Hooda administration, whose patronising attitude towards all kinds of scams, has only resulted in the bureaucracy developing a lax attitude. The department is forced to carry out orders from the political masters but in turn has to bear the brunt of people and media's ire.
There is no dearth of very capable officers that would like to work with honour and dignity, as they too have families to face. But a corrupt government that ensures that corrupt officials are brought into critical positions, only results in giving out a very demoralising message to the rest of the department. In such situations, honest officers have no other choice but to comply, otherwise they get shunted out with a bad report. Ashok Khemka learnt this the hard way.
An appeal to the department
As mentioned earlier, the excise department plays a very important role in a state's development. The funds it collects goes directly into nation building, an act that should be a matter of pride for every official of the department. The capability and caliber of the officials in the department has never been in question. The only aspect that has brought a bad name by a few, has been in the context of corruption.
It is for every official to invoke his or her own inner conscience and rise above petty gains. After all, every official would like his child to announce with pride that my father or mother works in Excise. And every business house in the state should look forward to a visit from the department, with a sense of accomplishment and pride rather than one of fear and loathe.
This is the Excise department that Naya Haryana needs. It is time for a Nayi Soch and we must all join hands in building a Naya Haryana. One that we are all proud of.