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Exclusive: Firebrand IRS Officer Shares What Happens Inside High Profile ‘Raids’

What does it take to be a tax official in India? IRS officer Rohini Divakar shares the inside details.

Rohini Divakar is an officer of the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), currently serving as the Joint Director of Income Tax, Investigation, Chennai. One would assume that her job entails looking at files through the day and bringing tax evaders to justice.

While that is true to some extent, there’s so much more to the job of being an IRS officer. In this free-wheeling conversation The Better India had with Rohini, she walks us through some of her experiences, including being part of high profile investigations, and raids.

Rohini spent her growing up years in Davanagere in Karnataka. After completing her graduation she decided to appear for the UPSC examination in 2007. Rohini says that it was her sister, IPS officer Roopa Divakar, who has been her role model and inspiration all through her formative years. Both sisters have learnt to not fear anything, but only to focus on the job at hand.

What does the work of an IRS officer entail?

At the Big Ben, London. Rohini was the All-India topper in the selection-tests and interviews for Youth Exchange Programme.

Rohini’s first posting was in Chennai for a brief period, following which, she moved to Bengaluru, Karnataka where she was in the ‘media circle’. It was during this posting in Bengaluru that she planned and executed her very first surveillance mission – which usually culminates in a search of the premises – popularly known as a ‘raid’.

Speaking about it, she says, “This posting put me in charge of assessing the collection, payment, violation, and evasion of tax payments within the Kannada media industry.”

One of the many assessees’ that the department was investigating happened to be a rather popular Kannada music director. It was during this raid that Rohini entered the premise as an undercover ‘budding singer’.

“One often sees such scenes in movies and web-series, and that’s exactly how it happened as well,” she says. Once Rohini was within the premises, she took charge and says that a significant sum of money was recovered through the search that ensued.

“That year because of the demonstrative effect that this raid had, the collection was at an all-time high from the Kannada media industry,” says Rohini.

Since that was the first mission that Rohini was involved in, she says, “Like in everything else you try for the first time, I also felt nervousness and a million butterflies before D-Day. It was all upon me to make sure that everything worked as per the plan and that we did not mess up at any stage.”

What happens during an income tax raid?

During training.

“Raid, as a process, requires very meticulous planning. It does not happen overnight,” says Rohini. Months go into gathering evidence from various sources cultivated over the years. Once the officers are in possession of all the required documents and evidence, it is studied and a case is made. If it has enough merit, then the next step is to plan a raid.

“With the prior approval of our superiors we fix a date and go ahead with it. Depending on the scale of operation, manpower is assigned for it,” says Rohini. The Bengaluru raid headed by Rohini took three months of monitoring, before execution.

What doesn’t happen is manhandling of the assessee, destruction of property, or any other inappropriate behaviour, says Rohini. “While largely television series and movies reach out to us for inputs, not everything unfolds as you see in those series,” she says.

Other than this, Rohini was also vested with the task of handling a very sensitive matter in Karnataka pertaining to a mining scam. Speaking about it, she says, “In that scam, we unearthed almost Rs 1400 Crore in illegal income. There was a lot of pressure. But what has been heartening is that all my orders have been upheld by various appellate authorities.”

These are just two of the many cases IRS Rohini has handled and should go some way to bust some of the stereotypes about slow and non-functioning tax authorities. As officers like Rohini show, it takes a lot to ensure every member of the public contributes their fair share.

False ceilings, toilets, and more

Traditionally ‘black’ money was stacked away in boxes, toilets, and even false ceilings. However, with the passage of time, Rohini says that these methods have become obsolete and rather innovative ways have emerged.

“Now there is a systematic methodology that is followed – sham companies, rotation through hawala, and even the holding of benami properties. It requires astuteness to investigate such complex transactions.”

“Also, given the levels to which people can stoop to, an officer should not have any kind of diffidence or inhibitions, as it will come in the way of them discharging their duties. This is something that an officer develops over a period of time.”

The ever-lasting competition

Rohini and her family.

Incidentally, Rohini is married to IPS officer Saroj Kumar Thakur. On a lighter note, when asked whether there is competition between the IRS and IPS at home, she says, “There is healthy competition at every stage, in almost everything we do professionally. We are both part of law enforcement agencies, and I often take pride in the fact that it is the Income Tax department that has worked towards unearthing some of the biggest financial scams in this country.”

(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)