Asian Age article on 17th OCTOBER
ON RED TRAPISM
AN INSIDER’S ACCOUNT OF CORRUPTION IN INDIA’S INCOME TAX DEPARTMENT - AN EXCERPT FROM Y P SINGH’S VULTURES IN LOVE
BY OLGA TELLIS
Y.P. Singh’s book Vultures In Love is a scathing comment on the corruption in the customs and income-tax departments. Though a fiction, he says, “I researched for more than 10 years not only into the corruption in these departments but also into the social engineering, specially the lifestyles of the officers’ families, wives and children and their interaction with one another.”
Singh, 45, an IPS officer, better known as a crusader against corruption, feels that because of the institutions of customs house agents and chartered accountants, people from the customs and income-tax rarely get caught. Policemen, railway staff etc. who come in contact with people on a regular basis, on the other hand, are caught for petty acts of corruption.Through this book he hopes to sensitise public with the modus operandi and corrupt mindset of this cadre which already has a defence mechanism in place and believes that it is not doing anything wrong.
The book, which is sweeping in its scope, is not without a bit of romance. It reveals how marriages are determined in the academy at Mussoorie. It is unflattering to women I-T and customs officers. As he says their dilemma is “weighing indiscretions of infidelity with corruption.” He is genuinely alarmed at the spreading corruption among women officers which people are not sensitised to. Singh’s earlier book Carnage by Angels was a harsh and thinly-veiled revelation of the nexus between top cops and politicians. Vultures In Love, will have the income-tax and customs doing ring-a-ring-a roses trying to identify who’s who in this extremely gripping book.
An excerpt from Y.P. Singh’s Vultures In Love
In the realm of manipulation of postings and transfers or for any other clandestine operation, it was the policy of A.N. Singh, pursuant to the tenets he had defined in the CODASC, that for any such deal there should be enough insulations. To accomplish these ends he had evolved the Theory Of Double Filtering — if the events went berserk, they must get caught up in the filters and must not percolate down to the corrupt officer.
The scheme would monitor the events and calibrate the course on the desired lines. If the contemplated scheme was to turn haywire, either fully or in part, then the filters would reveal the strains so that there would be enough leverage to rectify the deviation well in time, or to abort the venture before its too late, or to insulate the officer from anything incriminating.
Though a bit expensive, in view of the opportunity losses of some bribe money, such contingent plans were most prudent. That would be appreciated more, with an in-depth understanding of the “Theory Of Double Filtering.” Those were the twin concepts of “safety comes first” and “failsafe.” They constituted the primary ingredients of this construction.
Under his imagery of “safety comes first,” everything else would turn secondary if there were to be a peril associated with a bribe-venture. It was prudent to lose a million today than a 100 million in the future. So, for any venture to succeed, safety was of the essence. Under no circumstances, the officer was to be placed in any sort of jeopardy.
Another concept was that of “failsafe.” Under this rule, if the mechanism failed, then it must automatically place itself in a safe position. The idea prescribed that, if at all, the clandestine venture was ever to run the risk of detection, then, in equilibrium, it must revert to the safe position.
The easiest method to qualify for these two rules of “safety comes first” and of “failsafe,” was to place a couple of “trusted” middlemen for the assigned task. The concept of “trusted” was not related to the conventional emotions of loyalty. It was to be of the nature where such a “trusted” man had to remain loyal for material reasons because his entire life and his profession were linked to these clandestine acts. If he betrayed, then he would lose his earnings forever. In other words, it would be professional suicide and no materialistic middleman would ever do so.
For such a job, A.N. Singh had classified certain CAs who had a long history of being faithful to the income-tax people and who had wanted to make it big. Even if these persons were ever to be caught, they would never implicate an income-tax official and would always claim that the money they took from their clients was for their professional fees, or at best, was a loan, or else, they would draft some other credible-sounding pretext. Singh would always place only such a CA for his jobs.
The system evolved by A.N. Singh had turned so perfect that while exchange of hard bribes was enormous, the anti-corruption agencies could hardly lay their hands on any income-tax official by trapping him red handed. In contrast, they would be laden with cases of hot red handed traps against policemen, railwaymen and the municipality people, where the average quantum of bribes per employee was a pittance vis-à-vis that of the income-tax. Perhaps, they all did not have the facility of having such versatile middle-men as the CAs who were with Singh.This edifice of safe corruption put up by A.N. Singh was to be gainfully used by one of his close friends. She was none other than Amrapali Mishra.
...With each passing day, Amrapali and her husband, Namit, were getting anxious. Time was running out and they had been left far behind by their peers who had won over the prosperous Mumbai in a short span of time. They must not lag behind. But the crucial question was how to get onto to this glamour city where they were to seek their redemption.One day, she called up at A.N. Singh’s office in Mumbai.
“Hi batchmate, how are you?” Amrapali asked.
“Good to hear such a sweet voice, Amrapali. You drown me into nostalgia,” replied A.N. Singh.
“I want to take some advice from you which I can’t do over the telephone. We’re meeting next week in the party thrown by Sumitra’s husband in Mumbai for his being awarded a special citation by the government for his studies in tax evasion. We’ll discuss then.”
A week later, she was in Mumbai. It was a reunion of sorts. The bash was in a posh five star hotel, which was far-famed to make adjustments in banquet rates where it would charge very less on paper and take difference in cash.
...As the party fostered, amidst the exuberant moods, in the serenity of the oozing opulence of the plush hotel, A.N. Singh took Amrapali to the corner and drew her into a conversation.“What did you have to talk to me about?” he asked her.
“Look, my husband and I both have been in Kanpur for a long time,” she voiced the impatient words.
“Now, we are getting suffocated. There is no challenging work assignment. If the assessee gives you a penny it becomes a talk of the town. Look what a great life you are leading here — the best everything, with no risk at all. It’s that proverbial position, straight out — having the cake and eating it too!”
“I understand. Anyone would crave for a Mumbai posting.”
“Why not? My husband and me want to come here, and for that precise reason I solicit your consultations,” she said.
“I see, just as I had anticipated. You come to my office tomorrow. We’ll go out for lunch. I will explain the dynamics.”
The next day, A.N. Singh, along with another batchmate of his, Sumant Ganguly, took Amrapali for lunch in a downtown Hotel. The three were thick pals during their training days....
“Look Amrapali,” said A.N. Singh.
“Most of our officers say that they have got their postings for free. They just happened to have some relative or a close acquaintance, who is or was, politically powerful. Don’t get misguided by such put-sons.”
“Do I, then, have to say that my dear friend, Sumant Ganguly, too, got his posting not through his politician uncle but by money.”
She tried to recall what her batchmate had told her some time back when he had got a posting in Mumbai.
“Look Amrapali, that was a talk on phone,” Sumant replied.
“Why should a politician renounce 5 to 10 lakhs just for a petty acquaintance? ...There’s no room for charity here. The minister shall listen to a politician or to an acquaintance or even to his relative, only when he’s sure that the other party owes some reciprocation. Otherwise, it’s the starkly cash-and-carry rule.”
“But why are you telling this to me, now? Why did you conceal this fact from me earlier?” she asked.
“Do you want me blab everything out on the telephone, saying that I paid Rs 7 lakhs to get a posting in Mumbai? You don’t know who’s listening in.”
“You mean talking on the phone is that risky.”
“It’s a pity that we officers spent so much time mastering general knowledge to get good marks in the general studies paper, but not otherwise,” Sumant elaborated his thoughts.
“It seems, once in job, it becomes a taboo to gain knowledge even if it’s vital for your existence. You tell me which line to tap and I would do it at a price — range 500 to 1,500 Rs per day, per line. You can go in for monthly packages also. ...In rare cases, the mean ones would send the tape along with an anonymous application to the vigilance or to the anti-corruption. If that happens, then even if you manage to escape from action, at least your days of good postings shall elude you for a long time.”
“But such stray tapes have no evidentiary value?” Amrapali was getting exposed to such nitty-gritty of corruption for the first time in her life.
“You’re absolutely right,” said Sumant. “But this lacuna is far more torturesome than a direct hit. The tape is enough to place you in the target list. You’ll be watched and so would be your assets. The blackmailer may even invest some money in some investigative work. He would have no qualms to double-cross you. All your properties, money dealings, benami investments, your so many other well-guarded secrets would become vulnerable.”
“That’s quite risky,” she said.
...“Enough of beating around the bush, Sumant,” A. N. Singh blurted out impatient overtones.
“Sorry to have kept you away from the primacy of your mission, Amrapali,” Sumant apologised.
“But I reiterate that general knowledge in this domain is of crucial significance.”
“Thanks for that. I have consumed the tips. I’d assimilate them further in the next few days through your great CODASC. Now please tell me as to how to manoeuvre things so as to get onto the place which everyone seems to be vying for.” Amrapali too was getting anxious.
“Okay, then listen carefully Amrapali,” Sumant was to make a thoughtful dissertation. “As you already know, we follow the principles of the “3 Fs” — foolproof, failsafe, and fire-walled. This is a sine quo non for the government servant. Pursuant to maintaining the imperatives of such safety precautions of the “3 Fs,” we never approach an agent directly for a posting. We always go through our CA who is our personal confidante and whom we trust. He always remains loyal because his long-term pecuniary interests are embedded with us officers of the income-tax. One betrayal and the CA is condemned for life, as a black sheep.
Our trusted CA then approaches another CA who specialises in arranging for postings and transfers and has built up his acquaintances and linkages with the passage of time. This specialist CA is in regular touch with agents and powerbrokers, as much at the board level, as in the corridors leading to the minister’s chamber. This CA gains specialisation through his contacts with the IRS officers down the years. The officers get so used to the CA that when they go to Delhi in a Board posting, invariably this CA takes up jobs of those clients whose work is stuck up at the Board level, with such officers of long-standing acquaintance. Since, at that Board level, there is less of assessment work and more of power-play through postings and transfers, the CA automatically assumes his new avtar.”
“Further, in Delhi, the board is just a cog in the wheel. Most of the decisions on postings and transfers are taken by the minister, either directly or through prompts. The chairman and the member reach high echelons mostly by unqualified subservience. Hence, they are even otherwise devoid of any formidable fervour.
They truly redeem what is said by the probationers for those at the top. “In humans, the spinal column contains 33 bones. An ambitious officer, very concerned about his career, loses one vertebra every year through his sycophantic exertions. By the time he reaches the top in 33 years time, he would have lost all the vertebrae of his spinal column — he would just turn spineless!”
Now, with excellent links of that CA up to the Board level, contacts with the agents and powerbrokers of the minister are logically imminent. Without such contacts, his mission would lead to nowhere. It’s as much that the CA needs them, but more, because the powerbrokers and the middlemen in Delhi, too, are in need of customers and the best source is the one who can get business straight from Mumbai. Thus the specialist CA becomes a very vital link.
One good thing about this system is that it’s very safe from all angles. If the middleman or the powerbroker is caught, first of all, he won’t reveal anything. If at all he does, then it would have little meaning as there would be no corroboratory evidence, and if next in the tier is brought into the fold, he would simply deny. That’s plain logic of self-preservation. The officer is perfectly safe in this failsafe system. Another positive aspect of this system is that the money is in safe hands. You’re operating through a string of veterans. If work is not done, the money comes back. Many a time, you don’t need to spend at all. The CA does all the work. You only have to oblige him at a later date with just a payment in kind, a barter.
Straightaway, we now come to the main question. How much to spend and how to proceed? We can use the services of one of our CAs Kamal Mehta. He’s in touch with a CA who is a specialist in the postings and transfers and is thick into the transfer industry. His name is Radhey Shyam Jatia. Now, unlike in many departments, in income-tax, even for that matter, in the customs, the postings are two-tiered. One is to get Mumbai circle, another is to get a consequential posting order for a good assessment charge within that circle. What’s the point getting into this glamour-land if you don’t have a powerful domain.
...For a Mumbai posting, you will have to spend at least Rs 7 to 10 lakhs and for a good charge it would be almost as much. But we can negotiate a package with the agent CA. We can get a posting order to Mumbai and a prompt from the minister to the chief commissioner for a good intra-city posting. I think the work shall be done in about 12 lakhs.”
“But the amount is too much. I can’t spend 25 lakhs for my posting and that of my husband’s. It’s like shelling out your life’s earning for an uncertain event,” Amrapali complained.
“Come on, Amrapali, apply your mind,” A.N. Singh intervened in between.
“There is no risk. It’s gain raining all over. I’ll see, if we can get some credit or finance. If we get none, even then myself and Sumant will share at least half the burden. You get the relief, we’ll derive the satisfaction of helping an officer who’s one among us, and finally we get a place to park our overflowing funds, in safe hands!”
“But the ultimate burden will fall on me,” said Amrapali.
“That won’t really happen when your net worth is just Rs 75 lakhs. It would be when it’s many times more — maybe 5 crores. You’ll have to shell out Rs 25 lakhs, not out of your 75 lakhs, but out of your 5 crores!” A.N. Singh tutored the woman.
“Come what may, the logic shall elude you at this juncture. Let me talk to Mehta. I’ll try for a package deal for the glorious couple, Singh smiled. “Should we meet tomorrow to settle the matter?”
“Yes, I would be glad. I’m very tense,” said Amrapali.
“I think you must dispel your anxieties right now,” Singh smiled once again.
On that very evening, both of them were sitting with Kamal Mehta. Fortunately, Jatia was in town and was called in. During discussions, it transpired that full payment shall be made to the powerbrokers in Delhi to get Amrapali posted to Mumbai and placed in the company circle. As for her husband, since there was a government rule that husband and wife shall be posted together, hence, he would get a posting in Mumbai, all by itself.
However, such free postings shall be in Central Excise, which was a detested place for the money-seekers, and which obviously, he wouldn’t like to be in. For, in Mumbai, postings in the customs was regarded not only as remunerative but also more prestigious. However, Jatia assured that he would get the deal struck for Rs 5 lakhs for her husband, but that would place him, merely, under the chief commissioner of customs, and that the actual downstream posting orders, in a moneymaking charge, shall have to be managed by him through his chief commissioner, locally.
Since the package, which Amrapali sought, was rather lucrative, the deal was settled for her twin posting orders — one from the board, to Mumbai, and another from the local chief commissioner, to the companies circle, both at Rs 14 lakhs. A categorical prompt for the local posting shall come directly from the PA of the minister, to the chief commissioner. With another 5 lakhs required for the posting of her husband, the total deal was fixed at 19 lakhs.
Both, A.N. Singh and his friend Sumant Ganguly, were ready to chip in Rs 5 lakhs each as loan. They were sure that they could prevail upon Amrapali to part with the rest of the 9 lakhs.Next day afternoon, they were sitting over a working lunch in the harbour bar of the downtown Taj Mahal Hotel.“Amrapali, your world is soon going to change,” A.N. Singh said. “Your yearning shall no longer be so.”“What’s the good news?” asked Amrapali.
“Well, we have settled the deal for nineteen. You get Mumbai with a consequent order from the chief commissioner for a company circle posting. Your husband gets Mumbai — not in central excise but in customs. We’ll manage his local posting from the chief commissioner later. Myself and Sumant shall finance to the tune of Rs 10 lakhs. You’ll return the loan as you earn. We think it shall not be difficult for you to pool in the rest nine,” A.N. Singh explained about the finances in specific terms.
“I think the deal is okay. How and when do I deliver the cash?” Amrapali asked.
“How do you manage your cash?” asked Singh.
“One of my cousins is in business. He absorbs it,” answered Amrapali.
“Never make the mistake of taking relatives in confidence. Read CODASC properly,” Singh came out with his sermons.
“They’ll be good and loyal only so long as you feed them. Once stopped, they will turn hungry and try to eat you up. You lose you confidante and your money.”
“I am having a feeling that what you state carries some sense,” Amrapali concurred with Singh.
“When one is new to the service and when one has just come out of the abiding company of relatives, it seems the world ends there itself. Hence this unqualified entrustment. I think I must take care.”
“Good, you understand. Take for sure that these sweet-tongued relatives living in middle-class environment with their greedy and jealous wives, howsoever sincere they may be, yet circumstances shall turn them faithless,” Singh added.
“Well, at present the stakes are less and we have a long service ahead. I think the prudent kith and kin won’t ditch us so soon. But for future, I’ve taken your advice in letter and spirit. I’ll collect the cash and tell my husband to deliver where you say,” Amrapali tried to infuse some finality to those issues which were not in the mainstream agenda, that day.
“Look, Amrapali, you’re still a naiveté,” spoke A.N. Singh.
“Never in life keep hard cash yourself when anyone, howsoever close and confidante, he may be, knows that you’ve got cash. It has to be handled with a very great secrecy with none knowing about it. This is one of the prime rules of CODASC and the operational methods have been detailed in part II.”
“I told you that I’ve yet to fully assimilate the CODASC,” she smiled.
“Well, in this world of black money transactions, even a small slip-up could cost you dear. Anyway, tell your relative and not your husband to deliver the money to one of the contacts of Jatia in Delhi. He’s a powerbroker and is an associate of the PA of the minister. I’ll get you the details now itself.”
A.N. Singh keyed in an SMS message from his cell phone to Jatia. In about ten minutes he got a reply. The name and address of the powerbroker in Delhi had been given.“Look, Amrapali, if in future you want to transfer cash to any place you solicit our consultations. You’re new in the field and are immature. There are professional havala agents.
It’s a misconception that these havala agents only transfer money abroad. There are several intra-country or inland havala operators. You deliver unaccounted money to them in Mumbai and they’ll deliver that money to wherever and to whosoever you want. The charge ranges from half to two per cent depending on aggregate value and location. Honesty here is impeccable. No one has ever lost his money this way,” A.N. Singh delivered his advices.
“Noted for a strict compliance, dear well-wishers. Now give me the address in Delhi,” she pulled a face and smiled.
A.N. Singh gave her the address of one Surya Prakash Malhotra, staying in Kotla, New Delhi. Amrapali assured that she would get the money turned over in the next 7 days. Back home, the next day, Amrapali, in consultation with her husband, arranged for the transfer of the cash to Malhotra. The money was delivered in five days time at New Delhi, by her brother’s acquaintance. On receipt of confirmation about the conveyance of money, A.N. Singh and Sumant Ganguly, both, pursued the venture, in right earnest, with Mehta and Jatia.
Within a month, the solicited orders were out. Amrapali was posted as deputy commissioner of income-tax, Mumbai. Her local posting order had to be issued by the chief commissioner of income-tax — I, Mumbai. Her husband was posted as deputy commissioner of customs, Mumbai, under the charge of chief commissioner of customs, Mumbai. His local posting, too, was to be decided by his chief commissioner.
Just a week after the transfer, the ambitious couple was airborne to Mumbai. No sooner had she joined, than the orders were issued, posting her as the deputy commissioner of income-tax, company circle 14. As for her husband he was posted as the deputy commissioner of customs (systems), which was not a sought-after posting.
With the wife in such a glamorous post, how could the husband be left so far behind. Namit was getting jittery over the fact that he was in a rather non-current posting, as was it christened in the customs circles. ...Something must be done to get a current posting. Naturally, he had to take the help of his enterprising wife.
Within a few months, with the help of A.N. Singh, Mehta, and Jatia, she could manage to establish contacts with the powerbrokers of Delhi. Since the minister-in-charge for customs was the same as for the income-tax, the nexus could easily be hooked onto. On an additional payment made for Rs 5 lakhs, a prompt was sent by the minister to the member (personnel) of the Board of Excise and Customs, who in turn called up the commissioner (general), and the chief commissioner, asking them to post Namit as the deputy commissioner of customs, Group VI imports.
Group VI was primarily dealing with the import of consumer goods whose value was often understated, declaring that the imported stuff was of a lesser quality whereas actually it wasn’t so. The fraud was immense, and accorded huge duty-evasion gains to the unscrupulous importers.
...Namit being a man, could manage his affair quite well, notwithstanding the MOB, by engaging his superiors into a frank conversation, and entering into a tacit bribe-sharing agreement thereto.
...Soon, the couple got well-entrenched in the spellbinding world where the great riches poured in, from everyplace. They indeed, were having the cake and eating it too. Naturally, for the couple to assimilate so much in so little a time, was turning out to be calamitous. But there was something more she didn’t know. That in this path contradicted by extremities on either side, she would encounter a man. ...Would he turn out to be the saviour, or would he recoil to settle the outstanding!