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It's not a birthday present. It's a protest

That officials of the sales tax department could not scowl more at their working conditions is seen from the fact that they chose Sharad Pawar’s birthday to lodge a protest: one that requires them not to shun work but treble the workday to a nonstop 24 hours.

Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar

Over 2,000 senior officers from the sales tax department will work a whole day and night on December 12 in a last-ditch effort to call out the state government’s attention to their overworked lives. For a department that scraped up Rs 65,000 crore for the state’s kitty last year, they think they are not getting their due. The state refuses to hire more officials to handle taxes, leaving the staff scurrying about to meet the target.

The D-day was chosen at a meeting on November 25 at Vikrikar Bhavan, the sales tax headquarters in Mazgaon. The officials reckoned it made sense to choose the birthday of Pawar Sr, whose nephew Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, heads the department of finance that controls the sales tax affairs.

“We are frustrated with the state government’s approach to dealing with the most crucial issues that we face,” said a senior office bearer of the Maharashtra Sales Tax Officers’ Association, a representative body of gazetted officers ranging from additional commissioners to sales tax officers.

Go for a win-win
It’s a mutually agreeable proposition to increase manpower in the department, officials contend. The sales tax has been set a revenue target of Rs 74,000 crore for the current financial year, which can be collected through instruments like VAT, professional tax, cess on petroleum products and so forth. The officials argue that this amount can be magnified by at least Rs 13,000 crore right away, if the state would only fill up even half of the 40 per cent vacancies.

According to officials, the government is being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Due to its reluctance to fork out a little extra, it is losing a few thousand crores in VAT revenue. It is also ignoring the fact that the number of taxpayers has more than doubled from 3.5 lakh in 1995 to 7.30 lakh in 2013. The corresponding increase in the number of employees, though, has been a mere 20 per cent, which itself speaks of the work burden that the officials bear, said an office bearer of the association.

The shortage of manpower has also resulted in delays in regular work. The department, said sources, has not been able to complete assessment of the fiscal ending 2007 till date. The potential of professional tax also remains untapped, thanks to staff inadequacy.

A fraction of the whole
According to sales tax officers, the state government is spending just 0.56 per cent, or Rs 367 crore, of the total income which incidentally was Rs 65,000 crore last year collected by the department on the sales tax establishment. Whereas other states spend substantially more: Andhra Pradesh (1.76 per cent), Gujarat (1.56 per cent), and Karnataka (1.1 per cent). Even other countries have a better outlay record in this regard: UK (1.47 per cent of revenue), Canada (1.2 per cent), Australia (1.19 per cent), and Japan (1.62).  

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