Pay tax, Karo Relax is the income-tax department's slogan. While its website and ads tom-tom the creation of help desks through a public-private partnership, what they don't mentionis a partnership of the corrupt kind.
With just days to go before the deadline for filing personal tax returns expires, the queues at Mayur Bhavan are serpentine. Rs 500 is what it takes to beat those queues — courtesy corrupt tax-department clerks and private-enterprise touts who function with impunity within Mayur Bhavan.
And the help desks? There aren't any. (At least, there weren't till Thursday. Now, help-desk counters have been set at Hall No. 11 at Pragati Maidan for the last three days of filing returns.)
At the enquiry counter, requests for assistance are met with a brusque "Can't you see? We don't have the time." But a number of young, smooth-talking men hold a handful of form. Are they touts? "Meet me after lunch hour. I'm very busy now. Where do you work?" one of them asks this reporter. Posing as a travel agent working in Connaught Place, this reporter enquires about his "service charges".
"The CAI work for charges Rs 1,000. For you, I'll bring it down to Rs 300," he says. Another agent quotes his price at Rs 500.
But it is not just CAs and their clerks who are out to make a quick buck inside Mayur Bhavan. At Ward 41-4 —for hospital employees with income below Rs 2 lakh— the official whispers conspiratorially: "Sir, kaahan CA ke paas jayenge?" he asks. "Just give me Rs 500 and I'll even get your form deposited."
Central Board of Direct Taxes spokesman A.K. Sinha claims that no such instance of corruption had been brought to the Board's notice. "We're on vigil and will take strict action," he promises. "Officers of the rank of chief commissioner are supervising the arrangements." The arrangement is saral: the lure of easy bucks is irresistible for the corrupt and the well-heeled who encourage them.