An income tax officer posted in Ranchi is perplexed over being asked to report to work amid coronavirus lockdown, which has been extended till May 3. He is currently in Chandigarh, his hometown, and has no means to make it back with all flights and trains suspended. Besides, with separate state laws and restrictions also in force, permission may be needed to operate in hotspot areas that have several cases of Covid-19.
He is one among the many officers who are flummoxed with the unofficial orders from supervisory officers asking them to report to work even before April 19, when ministry of home affairs relaxation guidelines kick in. With stiff targets related to direct tax collections and Vivad se Vishwas dispute resolution scheme, the officers have been asked to start functioning regularly.
“I visited my home in Gurgaon when the lockdown was announced. There is no way that I can report to work in Ahmedabad where I am posted. Informally, we have been told to report to work this week, and officially from April 19. This is impossible for most of us,” said one officer. He added that reporting to work will involve asking their driver, staff, subordinates and even cleaning staff to come to work, making the lockdown counterproductive.
In fact, the All India IRS Association has written to CBDT chairman P C Mody requesting immediate directions to the Cadre Controlling Authorities to desist from issuing informal directives to the field formations to attend office without specifying the essential activities they would perform proper and without comprehensive arrangements in place, and thereby” compromise the health and safety of the employees, as also Government’s effort at containment and elimination of Covid-19.”
Direct tax collections missed the downward revised target for 2019-20 by Rs 1.42 trillion to stand at Rs 10.27 trillion, down eight per cent from the previous year. This means that the collection target for FY21 stands at 28.2 per cent, against the assumed rate of 12 per cent assumed in the budget.
However the CBDT issued an official order on Tuesday asking field formations to report to work from April 20, in line with ministry of home affairs guidelines asking ministries and departments to report to work. The Joint Council of Action, an association of income tax employees and gazetted officers, has in a letter to CBDT chairman Mody pointed out that valid no-objection certificates be obtained from states, union territories or district administration that all preparatory arrangements as well as other sectoral requirements are in place and functional in appropriate manner.”
It has sought a plan a place to support reopening, from travel logistics to onboarding and travel facilities for supporting staff, statutory permissions, protection and any necessary insurance (as provided for essential services) and equipment for screening of those attending offices. It has also sought emergency response protocols, submission channels of work, and setting up helpdesks in the CBDT and Regions to support and assist those carrying out such essential functions.
“Many states have operational Epidemic Act provisions, curfews and other restrictions in force, and our employees would either have to be exempted by local authorities, or run the risk of prosecution,” said an official.
The association also sought arrangements of transport facilities for to and from Office with no public transport available. “Though certain ranks below the cadre of CIT may be in a position to requisition the operational vehicles, most of the other Officers/staff members do not have any such facility for commuting between home and office. These officers and officials are mainly dependent upon the public transport,” said the letter.