The Centre has warned its employees that they could invite penal action if it is found that they are indulging in criticism of its policies and actions. This presage came from the Union Finance Ministry amid a sustained campaign by the Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Central Excise) and All India Association of Central Excise Gazetted Executive for changes in the Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN)-a private company tasked with the creation of Information Technology (IT) infrastructure and composition of a GST council secretariat for the new tax regime.
"Of late, it has been noticed that some associations or federations have commented adversely about the government and its policies. It may be brought to the notice of all associations or federations that if anyone indulges in criticism of the government and its policies, appropriate action (including disciplinary action) shall be taken," a memo issued by recently by the Finance Ministry said.
It cited the service rules tinkered in June, covering the social media as well, that bar a government servant from making any adverse criticism of any policy or action of the government.
The Ministry said the primary objective of the service associations is to promote common service interest of its members. The service rules were amended in June making it clear that disapproval of government policies on social media also amounted to violation of conduct rules. And the threat of disciplinary action extends to caricatures that are uncharitable to the government.
Earlier rule book spoke about criticism made in a radio broadcast, public media (such as television) or documents. It will be applicable to anonymous and pseudonymous posts by officials too.
The recent memo of the Finance Ministry capped weeks of unrest among officers and cadre of the Excise and Revenue Department officials over a number of issues related to roll out of the General Sales Tax regime.
The central government holds 24.5 per cent stake in GSTN while state governments together hold another 24.5 per cent. The balance 51 per cent equity is with non-government financial institutions, like HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and LIC Housing Finance.
"Management of GSTN be entrusted to Directorate General, Systems of Central Board of Excise and Customs, as GSTN is a newly created Special Purpose Vehicle, which does not have any experience in implementing any IT project or domain knowledge in Indirect Tax laws," the IRS association had said in a statement.
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had recently approved 'Project Saksham' -- a new indirect tax network (systems integration) of the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC). The total project cost involved is Rs 2,256 crore which will be incurred over a period of seven years.
Three days later in a letter to the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Steering Committee of Associations in the Central Board of Excise and Customs representing the IRS and seven other bodies wrote on the subject of GST.
It said their main concern was that `unity of purpose’ is being compromised at the expense of the growth of tax base and revenue. The Committee said a resolution on the GST at their meeting believes that service Tax (services above threshold level falling within GST) Administration should be in the exclusive domain of Centre and dual Control of the Centre and the States (for Goods) across the spectrum.
“Sir, we feel that the benefits of pan-India foot prints of the central indirect taxes would be lost if the tax payer base is handed over to the states without proper evaluation, and we expect that our understanding would get due recognition and initiate a positive response”, it said.