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India`s new taxman
June, 04th 2007
An Andhra Pradesh-based civil servant friend of the new revenue secretary Pradeep V Bhide describes him as a straight, no-nonsense officer, who nobody can influence or pressurise. He adds that while Bhide is easy going and affable (a fact corroborated by others who know him), the 57-year old bureaucrat is equally sharp.
 
In the hallowed portals of the Indian Administrative Services, to which the 1950-born Bhide belongs (his wife Sheela Bhide is a fellow batch mate of the AP cadre), the task of heading the central governments vast revenue collection administration is a job that most envy.
 
The 1973-batch IAS officer has held various important jobs including heading Godawari Fertilisers and Chemicals Ltd, which was acquired by Coromandel Fertilisers Ltd of the Murugappa Group. Bhide was also the finance and energy secretary in Andhra Pradesh, the state that has the reputation of the being amongst the earliest reformers. His work in the states power sector is cited by many.
 
He has been on central deputation since August 2002 and has since served as a joint secretary in the disinvestment department, followed by stints as additional and then special secretary in the Home Ministry. In the past, he served as director in the Department of Economic Affairs and also did a stint with the World Bank during 1988-1992.
 
Whether Bhide makes it to the top bureaucratic position in the ministry, the job of the finance secretary, is always an open question, but hes young enough to be a strong contender.
 
Bhide has assumed charge at a time when two new faces have also taken over at the helm of the revenue departments direct and indirect tax collection arms B M Singh at the Central Board of Direct Taxes and S K Singhal at the Central Board of Excise & Customs.
 
On the face of it, enhancing revenue collections doesnt look like too much of a task, given just how fast revenues are rising. But so are expenditures. In any case, there are major sectors where revenue collections appear way below expectations. Excise duty is one such area looking at the growth in excise collections, youd never get the impression the industrial sector is growing as rapidly as it is.
 
Bhides main task will be to ensure reforms in tax administration, an issue that the finance minister himself is very keen on. The other challenges will be to come out with the roadmap for the Goods and Service Tax, a new simpler code for direct taxes, enhancing the technology interface for tax payers and ensuring that tax administrators come across better.
 
Its a high pressure job. The inner resolve the Bhides showed during a yatra to Kailas Mansarovar that got them featured in LifePositive magazine (in an article by none less than former top cop DR Karthikeyan), will stand him in good stead.

Siddharth Zarabi
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