The Centre has, till now, dismissed (the polite term is compulsorily retired) more than 60 Income Tax officers from service using the Fundamental Rule 56-J. These include officers of the rank of principal commissioner joint commissioner, assistant and deputy assistant commissioner. The government was getting feedback that corrupt and inflexible officers were harassing the taxpayers. The buzz of corruption in respect of several senior officers was very strong. There were charges of inefficiency and worse against others.
Punitive action against government officers is a tricky thing. It can lead to dissension and court cases. In the present case, some of the dismissed officers had approached the courts for relief but did not get any. This was because the Supreme Court has been very strict in this regard and has held that the Rule 56-J is in consonance with the constitution. The government has the right to dismiss its Group A, B and C employees under Fundamental Rule 56-J read with Rule 48(1) of the Pension Rules, 1972 if they have either completed 30 years of service or had joined before the age of 35 and have reached the age of 50 (55 in some cases) if their performance is not considered up to the mark.
These rules exist for a long time. But the lack of political will in enforcing them and a chalta hai attitude of previous governments had allowed corrupt officers to make hay. There have been instances where such officers have themselves suggested the loopholes to the taxpayers to get relief of enormous sums of money after their palms were suitably greased. Then, some unscrupulous officers used to threaten taxpayers of action if they were not paid off. But now that action is being taken regularly, the message is likely to percolate down the ranks that corruption and inefficiency will not be tolerated.
While it is good that the government is moving against such officers, why are other departments not being targeted? There are corrupt officers in almost every government department. The action under Fundamental Rule 56-J should be applied in all departments to weed out the corrupt and inefficient officers since they are dirtying the whole pond and not allowing others to work ethically. They are also passing orders that are saddling departments with unnecessary litigation and increasing the workload and also clogging the judicial system. The sooner the system is rid of these officers, the better it will be for the governance of the nation. The best thing would be that the action would put the fear of law in the rest and the level of corruption will fall drastically. The states should also take the cue and initiate action in their departments under the relevant rules applicable to their employees.
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