January 25, 2019

Speaking at Investiture Ceremony and International Customs Day, in New Delhi

…run the programme so beautifully, well done and keep up this enthusiasm. My colleague and very senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, someone who has dedicated a whole lifetime in the CBDT, who has graced this occasion. And I was asking Ajay Bhushanji, do other services also come in such a programme, he said no, they are all our very own. We all work together as a team, and I think that’s a great sense of satisfaction to us.

Other members of the CBIC colleagues from different services, all the awardees today who have done the nation proud with their sincerity, hard work, commitment, intelligence – I saw a number of intelligence officers get awards – and I am sure, integrity. And all the very distinguished ladies and gentlemen present here today. At the outset, I am only standing in for Shri Arun Jaitleyji, but I had a chance to talk to him late last night and, actually, even early morning today. And he is in good health, recovering very rapidly. And I am sure all of you join me in wishing him the best of health and many-many years of service to society.

He has also sent you his regards, his best wishes and complimented all the award winners. And, therefore, all the comments that Mr Dash made or Ajay Bhushanji made should rightfully go to Shri Arun Jaitleyji and the stewardship of the department that he has very ably done over the last five years. And certainly, under his leadership we have seen some historic things happening in the GST, in IBC, in reforming the tax structures, reforming the administration of different taxes, collectively, helping us achieve such transformational results. The 66 point jump in the ease of doing business ranking, securing our borders, yet making them seamless, easier to trade and making India one of the brightest spots in the world economy today.

The World’s Custom Organization has declared today as International Customs Day. Its 66 years since we are celebrating this. We have come a long way over these years, and I am sure there is a long way, long road ahead of us also. But I am delighted to read the theme that you have finalized for today’s programme, recognizing the important role that customs officials and agencies play in securing the borders; smart borders for seamless trade, travel and transport, truly encompasses our job very beautifully.

And, this collective effort across the world on these lines am sure will help us actually transform the way government, it’s agencies and customers or traders or businessmen work with each other. I personally believe the true test of our success will be the day when every customer with whom all of us are engaged looks upon us as a friend, not as an adversary. And this customer-friendly approach in my view will give us far-far greater results than any other approach.

Of course, we have to trust the customers with a great degree of intelligence. After all, we are here to do a job. We are here to do a job to ensure that the revenues of the government, the revenues which are rightfully due to be collected, and which go to serve the poor of India, which go to create infrastructure, which go to develop security for our borders should not be lost, no revenue should be lost. But I do believe that the many steps that have been taken over the last few years to create an atmosphere where our officers should be welcomed rather than avoided, will continue in the years to come.

All of us will collectively work to make our organization much more customer-centric, customer-friendly, customer-focused, focused on making it easier to transact, easier to do business, yet conscious of our responsibility to the nation, to the people of India to ensure that the right taxes are paid. In fact, at this stage I can only say that I also appeal to the business community and I was happy to see that you also recognize some private sector persons or organizations.

But I would also appeal to the business community that it’s time to do business ethically and do business straight. Those days are gone when we had an era of very high taxes and, therefore, or very high import duties, very high indirect and direct taxes, which caused people to look at different avenues to save tax. There was also the element of misuse of public funds. I myself come from the private sector and very often you would hear friends say that if we are paying these high taxes and if it’s not put to good use, then should we be paying such high taxes?

In the last few years, there has been a very honest attempt to change that culture, both to make the administration more taxpayer-friendly, to continue to continuously bring down tax rates, make compliance easier, make compliance more technology-driven. And I must mention, ensuring that every rupee of tax that is collected with your efforts is put to good use, is used for the welfare and the wider good of society, is used to provide electricity to that child who for generations whose family has not seen electricity.

Every rupee of tax paid by an honest taxpayer, collected by your hard work and your administration is used to give a home to those without a shelter, is used to create a wide network of roads, highways, seaways, airways, take digital connectivity to the remotest villages, develop rural infrastructure, take rural roads to 600,000 villages in the country and ensure dignity for our women, dignity for our sisters, ensure a better future for the youth of India.

And it is only when taxes collected honestly are put to good use honestly that one can truly feel a sense of redemption, a sense of satisfaction for a job well done. And I must compliment all of you, particularly, the awardees today, for all the work that you have all put in to change the culture of working, change the image of the department. I do believe it is still work in process. One should never rest satisfied that, oh, we have done so much and more and everything is alright. There is still a lot more road to be traversed. There is still a lot more potential for simplification, transparency, ease of operations, and I personally believe that it’s always the actions of a few people which causes agony to our much larger set of people. And it’s both ways – be it the business community, be it our departments.

It’s not as if every businessman is cheating on taxes. And so also, it’s not as if governments, bureaucrats, people in power, administration are all engaged in wrongdoing. But it is always the few black sheep which cause a generalization in society or in the public mind that things are not going right.

Very often, in the over enthusiasm of tax administration, we become overzealous also, and that causes a lot of agony, particularly, to the honest taxpayers who believes that I have done no wrong, but why should I be in the general category of facing the wrath of tax administration. Similarly, when people generally comment about administration of different departments of the government or bureaucracy or all the wings of democracy, it’s very unfortunate that all are brushed in the same language or same tone. And, therefore, it become incumbent on all of us to collectively recognize our responsibility.

After all, each one of us as an individual represents a wider whole, I am told some 80,000 officers. Each one of us will have to recognize that my actions are going to reflect on the image of 79,999 of my colleagues, and every single step that I take is a step which is assumed to be taken by all my brothers and sisters who have worked with me or … their life for the nation, who have worked to serve the nation.

After all, what are all of we, whether Shiv Pratapji or me on the political end, all of you on the administrative end. And I personally believe all the people engaged in trade, business, the workers, the managers, the entire social fabric is all working for a collective goal, a better tomorrow for the people of India. And both you and me as public servants have a role to administer that better good for the people of India.

And I think if, collectively, all of us become focused on our commitment on the day we joined service, or the office that I took that I will do my job diligently. I will do my job honestly. I will do my job to ensure that every single citizen of this country has a better tomorrow, youth of this country have a better tomorrow, women get a place of dignity in this country. Every section of society, be the farmers, be the workers; all of them get a better future.

I think, collectively, we can transform both by our actions and our deeds the image of our department, the image of our nation and truly make India achieve its rightful place in the comity of nations that it really richly deserves, and that I think is the collective responsibility of all of us in this room. If it is not out of place, I would urge the department to seriously consider crowdsourcing of both feedback from our stakeholders, be the importers-exporters, be the people who are engaged with us in any way – they could be technology suppliers, they could be the housekeeping staff in our offices, and the customs offices, in the ports, people engaged in different ways working with us, if we can get an honest feedback and think in terms of what we can do – possibly also through a crowd-source feedback.

After all, if these 80,000 officers… I have just, actually, yesterday given an instruction in the railways. We have about 247 odd officers, HAG, what you call it, the additional secretary and above, and about 1400 SAGs – joint secretaries and all. I have said we should ask every one of them to provide us some ideas, some suggestions on how we can make the railway a better organization, a more customer-centric organization, a more honest organization. How we can improve the profitability of the railways. How we can give better passenger service, make the travel more exciting, more enjoyable. And, of course, there will be people. I mean, if somebody was to ask me to give ideas, I would start writing, it would be a hundred ideas.

So, I have said every senior officer gives the five best ideas that he feels he would like to share, and all the others give two good ideas. So, I hopefully, will receive some 4000 ideas in this process. Some of them may be repetitive. But imagine if we can work with 4000 suggestions or 2000 suggestions or even a 1000 suggestions, coming from the railway officials, my own sense is we can certainly make the railway a better organization. If you feel that all of our officers can participate, will be happy to participate, you may try to institutionalize a system where we collectively decide. It’s not as if the minister decides or the secretary or your chairman decides, we collectively decide how we can make our organization get the pride of place. And everybody look up to the customs department or to the CBIC, possibly also income tax Sushilji.

How everybody can feel that yes, this department is truly a public servant. He is truly coming to help me. He is truly looking at a way to facilitate my work. He is my friend. I can look up to him. I can walk up to him for guidance. I can talk to him frankly, without fear or rancour of any sort. I can work as a partner with him, not a partner in crime certainly. And I have the confidence, as I said earlier, there could be a few black sheep. If we all work collectively, we can even isolate that black sheep. But we can get that sense of pride in our organization. We can bring in the levels of efficiency that the public really desires from us. We can bring in the levels of transparency that can almost eliminate any potential of misuse on both sides. We can try and simplify the loss further.

And which I think you all have been doing continuously. I see the CBIC in almost every GST Council meeting, for example, has continuously evolved, been customer-centric, taking feedback, improvising. Sometimes, some people even complain and criticize that you are changing too often, but in my view that’s a good thing. If you see a problem and you right it or correct it, I think it reflects a good responsive organization, which is not stuck on its own thinking and refusing to change.

In fact, there is a famous book ‘Life of Pi’, I don’t know if any of you have read it, by Yann Martel, in which he says, ‘if you resist good ideas, you condemn yourself to dinosaurhood.’ All of us know what dinosaurs are. It’s the extinct phase. If you condemn good ideas, you are doomed to become a dinosaur. And our job as a vibrant organization is to continuously look at new ideas, act on those new ideas, work for the collective achievement of a greater goal.

And for those few people who are not aligned to this vision of high transparency, simplification, high integrity, I can only say this that every time either you do a wrong, or you encourage or allow somebody else to do a wrong, keep it at the back of your mind that your action may have caused one sister to not get a toilet in her home, or you action has deprived a child of electricity in his home or your action has caused a farmer not getting his due.

And I am sure, if that remains before our eyes at all times, none of us in this room or any of us public servants, be it in the political firmament of this country, be it the bureaucracy, or any other pillar of democracy will ever do wrong for a petty small gain. But looking at the wider responsibility thrust on all of us, we will all collectively work to make trade more simple, to bring down cost of compliance. We will eliminate, wherever possible, scope for intermediaries, which is also a big cost in the system, create direct interfaces, a more trusting interface with our customers, encourage customers to correspond with their effort also to completely go legit.

And I am very sure that if we keep this greater goal before us, it will motivate all of us to do better. It will give more momentum to our work. It will give more excitement to each one of us in our work, take the drudgery out of it and, collectively, we will now take us from the 80th position to why not the top 10 in the world?

Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. Once again my compliments to the awardees, and I wish all of you and your family members a great year ahead. Thank you.

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