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More Loyal then the King! – Political will triumphs

More Loyal then the King! – Political will triumphs
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I was posted as Commissioner of Excise, Government of Andhra Pradesh in the year 1987.  N.T. Rama Rao was the Chief Minister. I was a rather reluctant occupant of that post on account of an inbuilt dislike for regulatory assignments (of which, needless to say, there has been no shortage in my career!). 

I was posted as Commissioner of Excise, Government of Andhra Pradesh in the year 1987. N.T. Rama Rao was the Chief Minister. I was a rather reluctant occupant of that post on account of an inbuilt dislike for regulatory assignments (of which, needless to say, there has been no shortage in my career!).

I consoled myself that it was essentially a linear and incremental function to levy and collect revenue, only doing it better than before. Performance and success would be easily amenable to recognition.

The department dealt with levy and collection of State Excise duty on toddy, arrack and Indian Made Foreign Liquor, apart from performing certain other miscellaneous functions entrusted to it. The revenue from the sale of arrack constituted not only a major chunk of the department’s total revenue but was also a substantial part of the state’s receipts.

Soon after I took over a radical change in the Excise Policy was being discussed at the highest levels. The idea was to do away with the system of auctioning the rights of sale of arrack by individual shops or groups and to switch over to a system whereby the sellers would be selected and appointed by the government, - and an ad valorem duty collected on the actual value of arrack sold (as against the extant system of the seller paying the amount promised in the auction).

Prima facie, the proposal looked dangerous to me. The revenue may be put at risk and the process of selection was fraught with potential for interference and could cause a flood of complaints.

At that time Chandrababu Naidu (subsequently the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh), was the Chairman of the Rashtra Karshaka Parishad with the rank and status of a Cabinet Minister. He was also the General Secretary of the ruling Telugu Desam Party and had an important role to play in policy matters in general.

In particular he was interested in pushing the reform in question, which was seem as a measure of freeing the arrack trade from the grip of monopolies and allowing the revenue to realize its actual potential. At his instance we met in his office to discuss to proposed policy correction.

While I appreciated the spirit behind the change I remained unconvinced about its workability and wary of the consequences. Naidu indicated during the discussion that the change would come inevitably, and unless I changed my attitude, I would merely be seen as its sole opponent. I politely pointed out him that I valued my conviction much more than the satisfaction of being on the winning side of a debate.

A meeting of the state cabinet considered the proposal. When the subject came up for discussion the Principal Secretary Revenue (my immediate superior), the Principal Secretary Finance, the Chief Secretary and the Minister of Excise all had no specific views to offer; perhaps they had had an earlier discussion and were convinced of the need to approve the proposal.

Just as the Chief Minister was about to treat the matter as approved and pass on to the next item, I put my hand up and requested a hearing. NTR was not happy as he had heard of my reservations and was not pleased with my wanting to air them at that forum. I stood my ground and NTR reluctantly acquiesced.

I spoke my duly rehearsed piece, listing out all my objections pointing to the pit falls and highlighting my apprehensions; the minute I concluded, NTR passed on to the next item! I called on the Chief Secretary soon thereafter and requested to be relieved of the post in view of my stand on the matter.

The Chief Secretary counselled me with the fairly standard advice given in such circumstances and asked me stay on and make a success of the task.

Once the decision had been taken I plunged wholeheartedly into the preparatory work for ushering in the change in the system, banishing from my mind all the negative thoughts that I had been nurturing.

The change in policy was a thumping success! Far from taking a hit, the revenue actually registered a quantum jump that year!
The wisdom of the representatives of the people had scored over my somewhat bureaucratic resistance.

By:Dr MOHAN KANDA

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