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Exclusive Interview with Pratap Singh IRS: Insights into Tax Policy, Leadership, and Career Balancing

We recently had the privilege of interviewing Pratap Singh, the Principal Commissioner of Income Tax and a distinguished Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer with 33 years of experience in tax administration, policy formulation, planning, and implementation. Heading the largest revenue Commissionerate in India, Mr. Singh brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to his role. An alumnus of IIT Kanpur, he holds a Ph.D. in Economics, a PGDM, and an LLB, and has contributed several research papers and reports to the field. Mr. Singh is also an accomplished writer, having recently launched a new book. Beyond his professional achievements, he is an enthusiastic marathon runner and golfer. He runs an NGO, Ujjawalika Foundation in which social and community work is done in rural areas. He maintains a website where he shares his work, ideas and vision. In this interview, he shares insights from his illustrious career, thoughts on tax policy, and his experiences balancing work with writing.

You’ve had a distinguished career in the IRS, spanning over 33 years. Looking back, what would you say are your most significant achievements and contributions to the department?

As a tax collection department, our primary goal is revenue mobilization. Throughout my tenure in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, and Gurugram, I have focused on doubling the revenue within two to two and a half years. In Mumbai, we managed Rs. 1,17,000 Cr. of revenue, about 11% of the national tax revenue and 30% of Mumbai’s. In Gurugram, we increased revenue from Rs. 18,000 Cr. in 2021 to Rs. 43,000 Cr. by March 2024 and aim to surpass Rs. 50,000 Cr. by March 2025.

Training and mentoring future officers have been crucial, alongside prioritizing employee welfare, including office space, canteen facilities, guest houses, healthcare, and overall well-being. Taxpayer services, education, and outreach programs have also been key, with about 40 programs conducted in the last two to two and a half years. These initiatives have promoted ease of doing business and built trust with taxpayers, encouraging voluntary compliance.

Sustainability is a priority, with two micro-forests planted in Gurugram and a mega plantation drive resulting in over 15,000 saplings. A solar hut for green energy was also constructed at the Income Tax Office in Gurugram.

Infrastructure development has been a significant focus. We are constructing a state-of-the-art office building for Rs. 190 Cr. and a modern residential complex for Rs. 323 Cr. in Gurugram, providing 214 dwelling units. A small guest house has also been built and renovated for visiting officers.

My journey has been supported by seniors and colleagues who have shaped my vision and career, allowing me to lead a brilliant team of officers and staff.

Given your extensive experience in tax policy formulation, what are your thoughts on the current state of tax policy in India?

The Indian Income Tax Department is one of the most modern and technologically oriented tax department globally Our CPC is one of the best in the world and many foreign delegations come there to see the facilities. We have also contributed immensely to global tax reforms and are one of the important voices on international tax forums like G-20, OECD, UN, etc. As you know, we are a civilization country and had a well-developed tax system even in ancient period. Core principles of the Indian Income Tax system is non-adversarial tax regime, simple tax laws and easy process to comply. As of now, the entire department is computerised/automated and use of AI/ML/big tech is made to detect tax evasion and less and less reliance is placed on intrusive inspection. India has a moderate tax structure, comparable to similarly placed economies, a simple procedure for tax payment and tax filing, with a lot of emphasis on transparency and reducing the litigation. Grievance redressal is accorded very high priority in the Indian tax system and this is the reason that in the last 3 years, the income taxes have grown at CAGR of 29% with tax collections of Rs. 19.54 Lakh Cr. during the financial year 2023-24 and a tax base of 8.24 Cr. return filers.

Our vision is to partner in the nation building process through progressive tax policies, and to provide effective administration. Our mission is to make compliance easy, to ensure tax laws are administered with fairness and to deliver quality services to the tax payers. We have also issued citizen charter laying down the time schedule of various services to be provided by us to the citizens.

Your recent book has garnered significant attention. What inspired you to write on this specific topic and what message do you hope to convey to your readers?

My book entitled as “India’s Odyssey: From a Developing Country to an Emerging Superpower” is for the people who love India and dream and appreciate India’s rise. You know we launched Chandrayan-3 successfully to the surface of the Moon in the month of July 2023 which was a huge technological feat. Then we had a very successful G-20 Summit in September 2023 which put India at the Centre stage Geo-politically and placed it at the global high table. Prior to that, we developed two covid vaccines and supplied it to developing countries. These events and host of other events indicate that India as a country has arrived. So, though the idea for writing the book was there in my mind for quite some time but the above-mentioned developments initiated me in writing the book and after I started a lot of ideas started flowing in like start-up ecosystem in the country in which India is doing so very well. Similarly, we are in process of building up massive infrastructure in terms of roads, rail, airports and ports. We also had highest economic growth globally in the last 2-3 years. Thus, the book is a comprehensive study on India’s developmental journey and it covers from ancient period when we used to be almost 25% of the Global GDP to our post-independence reforms and shape into a modern diverse economy being at the cusp of third largest economy. What I feel is that this book will be quite useful for the people who are engaged in policy formulation and development planning of the country. It will also be useful to the students and specially the one who are preparing for UPSC and other entrance examinations. Finally, it will be a good readd for anybody who wishes to know about India.

As a senior government official, how do you navigate the balance between work and writing?

This is an interesting question. Finding time is always a bit difficulty but once you make up your mind, things start falling in line. So, I used to get time on holidays and early in the morning, late in the evening before sleeping, on the working days. However, writing is the easier part and the difficult one is editing. The most important issue always weighing upon my mind was whether this book is worth the reader’s time and his money, so I always kept the reader at the top of my thought process while writing this book and trying to make it as useful and relevant from the reader’s point of view. I would like to add that prior to this, I wrote another book on taxation entitled, “Reforms in Tax Administration – An Indian experience” where most of the ideas and analysis were taken from my Ph.D. research work and it was exclusively on taxation aspects. However, some of my friends suggested that this book was too technical with too much of data and computerised analysis and hypothesis etc. and it was difficult for a general reader to grasp the idea that was being conveyed. Therefore, while writing this second book, I kept in mind it should be easy to read and understand.

You have a strong academic background (M.Tech., Ph.D., LLB, MBA) and experience writing for both technical publications (Taxindiaonline) and broader audiences. How do you translate complex tax issues into clear and understandable language for a wider public audience?

It is very important from reader’s point of view that whatever be the concept, whether relating to taxation or other developmental aspects, it should be conveyed to the readers in an easy and simple language in which they can understand well, so while writing on taxation or other issues I always tried to keep in mind the average person in our society/community so that the people can make use of ideas conveyed therein. From the Government side a lot of efforts have been made to simplify the tax system, which includes simple tax forms, easy and step by step process of tax payments and tax filing and a simple method of the tax assessment and grievance redressal. We also while communicating to the people in public meetings, outreach programs or through media try to inform the tax payers about the facilities available. As I stated earlier, tax payers are the most important stake holders and rendering quality services to them is our highest priority and addressing people’s problems and grievances is extremely important to us. The CBDT and the Hon’ble FM Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman ma’am have laid down the grand vision of Income Tax Department in which utmost respect to honest tax payers is the central theme. Here, we have made a commitment that no tax payer, should go unattended or unheard or dis-satisfied.

Do you see your experiences in the IRS influencing your writing in any way? Are there any future topics you want to explore in your writing?

I owe everything in life and career to IRS and will do anything to protect its prestige and glory. Since I have worked in the IRS for over 33 years now, naturally my thought process and vision are greatly influenced by working in the Income Tax Department. The power of Government job is that you get to meet a lot of interesting people from diverse background on daily basis and if you are open to knowledge and ideas, you get to learn so much by interacting with the other people, some of which may have done absolutely high-quality work in their respective ideas. The areas which excite me for future projects are rural and agricultural economy, rural development, start-up eco-system in the country to which I have devoted a full chapter in the latest book and which includes greening, rejuvenation of water bodies and de-carbonization, etc. I am deeply influenced by the grand vision of Hon’ble PM Modiji to make India a fully developed country by 2047, and will try to contribute in every possible way in this regard.

You’ve achieved remarkable success? What advice would you offer young professionals aiming to balance a demanding career with academic pursuits?

God has been extremely kind to me. I come from a very humble background, from a remote village in Aligarh U.P. My schooling, was done in a village school. Somehow, I was lucky to get educated at some of the top educational institutes in the country and my teachers have played a huge role in development of my personality and world view. This is the reason that I respect all the teachers even the ones who are younger in age to me immensely. My latest book is also dedicated to my teachers. I would like to convey only one thing to the young professionals, please do the absolutely top-class work, aim for excellence in whatever you do, try so many things, fail, learn from such failures and then rise again. There are no short cuts. There is no shortage of time to pursue any hobby or career even to work for community or society. Only thing is that you need to focus yourself and discipline yourself a bit. Further learning should be a lifelong goal and not that once you have finished your college you stop learning. So, keep reading, keep writing and if possible, keep teaching whatever you have learnt. This is the best way to keep you updated and most of all be happy. It is the most important thing.

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