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Robust tax revenues are one of the drivers of nation-building, says Additional Director General Audit and celebrated IRS officer Amandeep Singh

The Apeejay School Mahavir Marg alumnus says small players in the economy can use digital access to launch micro enterprises that can go on to become unicorns

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Apeejay School, Mahavir Marg alumnus Amandeep Singh is a celebrated Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer from the batch of 1997, whose current assignment is Additional Director General (Audit Headquarters), New Delhi, at the Ministry of Finance, Government of India and Additional Director General, Kolkata Zonal Unit. With extensive experience of governance in senior positions across crucial ministries such as Finance, Corporate Affairs, Communications and Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Mr Singh is also a qualified doctor from Christian Medical College, Ludhiana and a gold medal winner from the National Police Academy, Ministry of Home Affairs. During a wide-ranging interview, he says India has been doing really well on the voluntary compliance front as the tax net has got wider and GST collections are at an all-time high. He also goes down memory lane sharing fond memories of the time he spent at Apeejay School, Mahavir Marg and reveals why following your heart, along with good old persistence and hard work could be the best success strategies when it comes to cracking the Civil Services or the IRS. Edited excerpts:

Please tell us about your job responsibilities as Additional Director General (Audit Headquarters) and ADG, Kolkata Zone.

Our organisation, which is called the Directorate General of Audit, supervises audit functions across Goods and Services Tax (GST) and customs throughout the country. As Additional Director General (Audit Headquarters), it is one of my responsibilities to make sure that the supervision is carried out effectively. For my zonal responsibility as ADG, Kolkata zone, I must ensure the integrity of the audit process. As part of the process, GST tax payers are selected on the basis of their likelihood to yield results and audit commissioners go out and audit them. It is the task of the zonal officers to monitor the quality of this process and to ensure that people who go out to audit tax-payers are well-trained.

Tax compliance contributes to nation-building and infrastructure creation. How has India fared on this front in the past few years?

One of the drivers of nation-building are robust tax revenues. And experience has shown that if there is a culture of voluntary compliance, instead of the threat of more serious kinds of action, compliance is better. People tend to be more prompt and willing tax-payers when they see those tax revenues turned into concrete projects and infrastructure and if they see them as fulfilling other goals of nation-building.  India has been doing very well on this front, because the tax net has got wider, the GST collections are at an all-time high. Also in the ease of doing business, whether it is with respect to GST compliance, cross-border trade or customs, the nation has made giant strides in jumping dozens of positions from where it stood a few years ago.

Voluntarily paying taxes helps in nation-building. Do you run campaigns that reach out to citizens with this message?

Yes, not me personally, we have other colleagues and organisations in the department that make sure that the culture of voluntary compliance culture is encouraged. They also highlight the department’s role as a facilitator in tax administration.

Please share memories of the time that you spent at Apeejay School, Jalandhar, Mahavir Marg?

I studied for classes 8, 9 and 10 at Apeejay School, Mahavir Marg, Jalandhar, between 1986 and 1988. I remember that period very fondly because I think it played a large part in laying the foundation of what I am today. Uncharacteristically for a school at that time, Apeejay School, Mahavir Marg, had a very open culture. It encouraged you to excel in extra-curriculars such as the Photography Club. It even had an Astronomy Club and a very active sports wing. Also, in the same campus, we had the Rajeshwari Kala Sangam where we could listen to music wafting from their classrooms while roaming the grounds during our free periods or lunch breaks. Also, the Kala Sangam used to host cultural events where poets, painters and other artists would be invited and we as students would just drop in. Perhaps we were too young to appreciate the cultural depth and diversity that the institution offered, but it left an impact on the way we developed intellectually. I had the opportunity to lead the student council and I was the head boy for some time. The school encouraged me to pursue all activities I was interested in. So, at different points, I was part of the football, volleyball, 4×100 metres relay and cricket teams. From the faculty, I remember our Principal Mr KK Dubey, Mr Sikand, who taught us Physical Education and Mr DD Sharma who taught us Biology. He must have done something right because I ended up pursuing medicine as my undergrad preference. After class 10, I joined DAV College Chandigarh for my final two years of school, before enrolling in Christian Medical College, Ludhiana to pursue medicine. Then I joined the Civil Services.  

Please share some tips for those who want to follow your career trajectory and build a career in auditing?

Schooling does not get over with school and college, it is a lifelong process. And if you don’t enjoy what you do, that life-long process becomes a chore. I have only one message for students: Follow your heart. It isn’t my trajectory or anyone else’s trajectory that they must emulate.  They have to follow their own trajectory in life.  They have to do what they are passionate about and they must be willing to stand their ground for what matters to them. Audit is only my recent assignment. I have been all over the government and I have pretty much done what I have wanted to do.

What will be your advice for those who want to clear the Civil Services examination?

Persistence and hard work pay off not just for the Civil Services, it holds true for any discipline. Gifts and talents can only take you so far. It is generally the hard work and the drudgery of putting into the day what needs to be put into it, to get what needs to be done. It’s really lots of hard work, lots of sweating, staying aware of the ambient geopolitical situation, staying aware of the ambient economic and financial conditions affecting our country and the global community at large. In my case, I had to choose two main subjects and I chose Medicine and Public Administration. The first time round, I cleared the exam but did not get a service I liked. The second time, I chose Sociology with Medicine. All of these were graduate-level studies. So, I thought I wouldn’t be worse off even if I didn’t make it, I will come out with at least graduate-level knowledge in these subjects. Which I did and it broadened my mind forever. I got through the IRS on my second attempt. The IRS was very high on my list of services, because it is not cadre-bound and you directly serve the Union government.

You have worked at top posts at a variety of crucial ministries such as Finance, Corporate Affairs, Communications and ICT. Is there a common thread during your stints in these various ministries?

There is one common thread. Although government seems fragmented across departments and ministries, the overarching theme of government is to deliver effective governance.  Every department or ministry has an important role to play there. I was lucky enough to serve with ministers for banking and insurance, which is a very overarching kind of ministry and also with IT and telecommunications which is another kind of great lever for overall socio-economic development for bridging the financial and the digital divide. So, my experience has been, if these unifying services can be delivered effectively, whether it is access to financial services, whether it is inclusiveness when it comes to insurance services, whether it comes to universal IT access, with the Internet becoming  a fundamental right across the world, it leverages the kind of growth the nation is capable of and this leverages the remote, the poor and the small players in the economy who can use these digital and financial access to start micro enterprises and then some of them can go on to become unicorns, as we have recently seen.

The start- new culture appears to have caught the nation’s imagination and IT has a crucial role to play there. It seems it is an idea whose time has come. Do you agree?

Yes, it has to be a seething cauldron in which thousands of start-ups grow up. Many of them should have the liberty to fail and few should succeed and then very few should succeed spectacularly. There are a few things going for it. For one, the eco-system is adapting to start-ups. Every player in the ecosystem is gearing up to support start-ups and to associate with them. Parents have learnt from their own journeys and therefore are more willing to let their students or their own children follow their hearts. So, there is a happy marriage possible between talent, money and innovation that is able to drive a lot of independent thinking, a lot of products and services and tapping of niche spaces which wasn’t possible before.

(Amandeep Singh is a senior IRS officer. The views expressed in the interview are personal. )

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected] He tweets @Aasheesh74

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