This latest edition of the Governance Watch deals with the intricate and complex issue of economic administration in India. A country trying to break the shackles of socialism-driven license raj, needs a sound delivery mechanism that helps augment resources. Its purposes then are two fold; one, to raise revenues so that the system remains well oiled and muscular and two, to conjure economic policies best suited to the country’s growth trajectory.
It is in this context that this issue focuses on the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), which encompasses the all important income tax department and the Indian Economic Service (IES), which has functioned thus far under the shadow of the powerful big brother Indian Administrative Service (IAS).
The IRS is a much-feared entity in the posh drawing rooms of the rich and the famous. For some corporations and companies, it is an eternal challenge to keep their taxes to the minimum. If they have to hire top class chartered accountants to fudge figures and get round the tax net, then be it so. Not surprisingly, less than three percent of India pays taxes. Since the normal rules of the country do not apply to states like Jammu and Kashmir and a number of provinces in North East India – apart from a vast population of poor who are not expected to pay – the tax base in India remains relatively minuscule.
For the first time, a senior serving income tax officer deals with the intricacies and details of his department like never before. For connoisseurs and students of the subject, it presents an unique opportunity to take an inside look at the nuts and bolts of how this mean machine works. It also focuses of what ails the famed income tax department. Despite its narrow base, it remains the major revenue earner for the country and the detailed piece inside suggests ways to streamline the system.
The IES, in comparison, has little to do with collection of revenue. It has everything to do with helping in formulating economic policies and the growing opportunities for its young cadre reflects the importance the government places on economic decision-making. Policies in the modern context have more to do with the economic agenda than political discourse. Slowly but steadily, young bureaucrats are realising the importance of being well versed in economics as it opens up new vistas for an upward career progression.
This edition also deals with the vexed land acquisition policy which is all set to change after nearly 120 years. It reflects a paradigm shift in the development model. The number of mega, medium and small industrial projects that are held up on account of non-availability of land, is a certain cause of concern. Hopefully, once and if this policy is actually legislated, the road would have been paved for greater development. Politicians notwithstanding their reputation for corruption and deceit, remain highly sensitive to public mood – perhaps more than anyone else. With West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee showing the way, across the political divide they see in the formulation of a sound land acquisition policy, a way to move up the social ladder and broaden their constituency. The write up here carries details of the proposed land acquisition policy, its somewhat chequered history and its likely impact not just on policy but also on the politics of the day.
Also included in this issue is the paramount question of gross political degeneration and the urgent need for reforms. We examine the need for a comprehensive legislation to govern the functioning of political parties, particularly their expenses and funding. With an anti-corruption campaign raging through the country in the last two years or so, the demand for this accountability is slowly but surely gaining ground. With citizens demanding straight answers from their elected representatives and the Election Commission looking to tighten the noose around the illegitimate use of money power in elections, could political accountability be somewhere in sight? It is a subject which is of immense interest and is examined in detail here.
Hopefully, for readers this issue of the Governance Watch presents differing perspectives of the country’s economic and political landscape.