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PM visits GST Academy

JANUARY 17, 2024

By Vijay Kumar

THE Prime Minister visited the National GST Academy yesterday; the GST academy is actually called NACIN - National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics - 'Indirect Taxes' means GST.

Mr. IJ Rao, a former Vice-president of CESTAT writing in our columns 17 years ago remarked,

I joined the Central Excise Department in October 1955. It was a historic occasion because I was the first to join as a direct recruit in the Department. For the first time, such recruitment was made.

That was not a help to me. There was no training scheme and the then Collector, Mr. Neale, chalked out an ad-hoc training schedule with the intention of finishing my training in six months. None knew what my position was as I joined as a Probationary Superintendent (class I) and the Assistant Collectors and the Deputy Collectors were all class II officers. Mainly to get rid of the embarrassment, the Collector sent me to various divisions and ranges. None knew what to do with me. Some superintendents and Inspectors did help me to get an idea of what the Department was all about but on the whole, it was not at all an ideal situation. This continued for more than two years during which I worked as Superintendent at Gobi, Tellicherry and the like. Departmental examination was held only for the first part and my probation was extended because I did not pass the second part which was not held at all. My protest about this extension received no response.

This is how training was in this Department. Around the same time that Mr. IJ Rao was loitering around without proper training, in the year 1955, the then Central Board of Revenue decided to set up a Central Training School with a view to improving general efficiency of the Central Excise Service. The Central Training School started functioning from 01.10.1955 and over the years, it evolved into 'Directorate of Training' with the mandate to impart induction training to newly recruited IRS (Customs &Central Excise) officers. It was under Mr. BV Kumar that the school blossomed into an academy in the year 1989, called the National Academy of Customs, Excise and Narcotics (NACEN) and recently with the advent of Goods & Services Tax (GST), it has been renamed as National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes and Narcotics (NACIN).

The National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes and Narcotics (NACIN) is the apex institution of the Government of India for capacity building in the field of indirect taxation. Specifically, the training for Indirect Taxes (Customs, Central Excise, Goods & Services Tax) and Narcotics Control. The Headquarters of NACIN was located at Faridabad. Now the NACIN is shifted to its mega campus at Palasamudram in Andhra Pradesh. The shift to Palasamudram from Faridabad was not all that smooth. I covered the chequered journey in my column DDT on several occasions:

Some extracts:

TIOL-DDT 2395 - 14.07.2014 - Monday

NACEN to be shifted to Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh - Delhi officers not very happy.

An innocent Statement in the Finance Minister's Budget Speech has created quite a stir.

Para 172 of the Budget speech reads as:

Academy for Customs

172. It is proposed to set up the National Academy for Customs & Excise at Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh.

The regional Press in Andhra Pradesh has gone to town with the news as if it is a great gift to the people of Andhra Pradesh.

But some IRS officers who want to work in Delhi are upset - for them the news has come as a bolt from the blue.

National Academy of Customs, Excise and Narcotics (NACEN) is recognized as one of the best Customs and Narcotics training institutions in the world - but with woefully inadequate facilities.

NACEN is perhaps the only National Academy with no jogging track, no parade grounds and no basic facilities to train the officers who pass through the toughest examination in the world and who would run the Department for the next 30 years.

NACEN is considered a Delhi posting by many officers and even the officers working in NACEN, Faridabad commute from Delhi, converting it into a tutorial college, not a residential academy. In fact, most of the probationers do not know what to do with themselves from Friday evening to Monday morning. Now they are scared that some of them have to go to remote Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh. An IRS officer remarked, "our officers have the habit of complaining if asked to work 10 km away from home."

The IRS Association President Metta Rama Rao seems to be excited about the project - he says he and his association have been campaigning for a better academy - more space, more people, more funds etc. He says that the Academy is meant to transform an intelligent graduate into an officer and a gentleman (lady). It should provide space for the needs of Body, Mind and Soul.

The Academy needs firing range, cross country track, green zones, colony, medical unit, water bodies, guest houses, etc - and NACEN has none.

The proposal to have a large amount of land for NACEN came up for serious consideration last year and the then MoS JD Seelam had promised to provide 200 acres of land near Vijayawada in AP, but it seems the then Chairperson of CBEC was not in favour of shifting NACEN from Faridabad to Vijayawada.

This year about 250 probationers will be joining NACEN and there is no way that NACEN, Faridabad can accommodate such a large number of probationers.

It seems the present MoS Nirmala Sitharaman who got elected to Rajya Sabha from Andhra Pradesh recently persuaded the AP Government to provide land and the AP Chief Minister readily obliged giving 300 acres of land. The Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh in a letter dated 23.6.2014, to the ADG, NACEN, Faridabad informed him that the Government of Andhra Pradesh proposes that the new campus of NACEN may be set up at Hindupur instead of Vijayawada and the State Government has consented to allot 300 acres of land for NACEN. And the Finance Minister included it in his Budget speech. That is how the sentence found place in the Budget Speech.

Hindupur is a small town in Anantapur District of Andhra Pradesh near the Karnataka border. The Bangalore airport is only 60 kms away from Hindupur. If the National Academy of Administration can be in Mussorie, the Police Academy at Hyderabad, the Direct Taxes Academy at Nagpur, why can't the Customs Academy be at Hindupur?

TIOL-DDT 2460 - 21.10.2014 - Tuesday

NACEN Hindupur cleared by FM - Largest Civil Service Academy

The debate over the location of NACEN at Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh is over. We understand that the FM has cleared the file. The State Government has given 500 acres of land for this academy. With 500 acres of land, this academy will have the largest land area for any civil service academy in the country. Let us hope that an academy we can all be proud of will come up at Hindupur.

TIOL-DDT 2467 - 31.10.2014 - Friday

CBEC Chief Shanti Sundharam retires today.

CBEC Chairperson Shanti Sundharam retires today after being in the Board for three years, nine months of which was as Chairman. In these eventful nine months, though she was not very high in the popularity rating, she could achieve certain things to be proud of.

She was strongly against the setting up of NACEN at Hindupur.

TIOL-DDT 2575 -10 04 2015 -Friday

NACEN Hindupur Bhoomi Puja Tomorrow - Grand Show

Finally, it is happening - NACEN at Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh. And for the State Government it is a big event. The Bhoomi Puja at Hindupur tomorrow will be attended by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and AP Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naidu. The Mega Show will witness not less than 8 Central Ministers including Venkaiah Naidu, Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Nirmala Sitharaman.

NACEN has obtained 500 acres of land from the Andhra Pradesh Government for its future academy. This will perhaps be the largest Academy in India and may be all the Civil servants can be trained here.

TIOL-DDT 2576 -13 04 2015 -Monday

NACEN Hindupur Bhoomi Puja - Huge Political Show

It was a giant political show for AP Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naidu. "We brought the National Customs Academy to the severe drought-prone district", he told a large number of his illiterate supporters gathered after the grand function.

He didn't tell them how the Customs Academy was going to help the drought-stricken district.

Any way it was the foundation stone laying ceremony of NACEN at Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh on Saturday. Amidst chanting of Vedic hymns, many politicians and officials joined the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in laying the foundation stone for the future citadel of learning that the CBEC plans to construct on a huge 500-acre land.

It is indeed a great achievement for CBEC that they could get the land and get the foundation stone laid within one year of announcement.

DG, NACEN, Dr. Sreekumar Menon with the FM. AP CM Chandrababu Naidu seen with one of his rare smiles, though other dignitaries don't seem to be amused.

Mr. SK Choudhury, former Member of CBEC was very angry and wrote in our columns:

NACEN at Hindupur - A dissent note & a fervent appeal for a Rethink

OCTOBER 08, 2014
By S K Choudhury, Former Member, CBEC

IT is a re-enactment of a sort of what happened in early eighties when a functioning CE Collectorate H.Q. was moved out from Calcutta to a place called Bolpur in WB where till today there is not even a range office and the Commissionerate condemned to function more often than not without a full time Commissioner from the days of its inception. This happened because no one in the Board then could tell its political master keen for such a shift that the idea of having a Collectorate HQ at Bolpur with no cluster of industries whatsoever within a radius of about 60 km was conceptually absurd and administratively unworkable idea.

While watching the live telecast of Arun Jaitley's maiden Budget speech ,I was taken by surprise when he read out an innocuously inserted para in his budget speech that read "It is proposed to set up the National Academy of Customs & Excise at Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh" (para.172). It created a sense of déjà vu. Later, I learnt that like me, many serving senior officers too were equally surprised by this abrupt announcement. It is not known whether the CBEC at least was kept in the loop. What is interesting is that while the Finance Minister chose to include this in his budget speech after maintaining absolute secrecy, there was no mention about provisioning of required fund for "setting up" such a premier training academy in a remote corner of a southern state known for launching iconic Telugu film actor and founder of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) N T Ramarao (NTR) in electoral politics in early eighties.

Who is behind such a move and with what motive? Improving the quality of training of IRS probationers could certainly not have been the objective behind such a decision announced within barely 45 days of the NDA government returning to power. Mystery is yet to unfold.

Incidentally, it also must be pointed out that from the FM's speech on "setting up" an academy in Hindupur, one may get an impression that the department of customs & central excise till now does not have an academy of its own at the national level. But the FM at least couldn't have been unaware that a full-fledged NACEN with all its paraphernalia does exist in a sprawling self-contained campus in Faridabad -an industrial hub in Haryana and not far from Delhi. In that case, what could be the intention of the Finance Minister? There are talks that in view of the demand for a more spacious academy with additional infrastructural facilities to cope with the increasing number of probationers joining each year and similar trend likely to continue in future, it is proposed to shift the academy from Faridabad to the proposed location at Hindupur. But if that be so, has the Finance Minister not thought it fit to first get the technical feasibility of expanding the existing facilities at Faridabad examined for meeting the increasing demand for additional space instead of shifting the entire academy to a new place taking everyone by surprise. From the manner in which one now hears about the hectic high-profile visits to Hindupur both from Delhi and Bangalore and elsewhere apparently for evaluating the suitability of the place for setting up an academy there, it will only go to prove that no such exercise was undertaken before making the hasty announcement. This is like putting the cart before the horse. The speed coupled with the total lack of transparency behind the decision taking process involving setting up of a national academy of a premier service at the least suited place has left everyone bewildered and flustered. Has the CBEC taken a position on this important issue?

Hindupur, 100 KM away from Bangalore having the distinction of being one of the driest places in India known for silk, jaggery and of course red chillies is a small town in Andhra Pradesh with inadequate civic amenities. Ask those living in that town about the acute water shortage they face daily! It is because of this perennial problem that the town's future expansion has been severely restricted. It is not uncommon to see people buying water at a high premium supplied by ubiquitous private tankers pumping out water using powerful bore-wells, depleting ground water resources .What is even more alarming is that the ground water is reportedly high in fluoride content which is highly salty rendering it virtually non-potable. What could then be the compelling reasons for the FM and more particularly for the part-time MOS to still insist on setting up a national academy at a place where even basic need for mere survival like potable water is a scarce commodity and what little is available is not fit for drinking, is indeed baffling.

A word of caution! Those responsible for such hasty and thoughtless decision and determined to bulldoze their way through will go down in the history of our department as people having done the greatest harm to the cause of training of our budding probationers and those going for in-service training in pursuit of their narrow ends. Unless reversed, it would be a misery in perpetuity for not only trainees, but equally so for the permanent faculty members and other administrative / supporting staff posted in NACEN. Like Bolpur, the Board will find not many takers for NACEN and those posted without their willingness are either not likely to join or proceed on long leave after forced joining. Any assurance of improving the civic facilities and particularly adequate potable water availability has to be taken with a pinch of salt, given the present state of affairs. Offering a massive stretch of barren land at the throw away price by the local administration can never be an overwhelming factor for choosing this place for a national academy. The cost of land may be relevant for setting up industrial or commercial establishments, not for a training academy at the national level meant for IRS probationers. While I am not an expert with any amount of domain knowledge in urban development, yet I dare say rather bluntly that Hindupur does not have the necessary wherewithal or potential of being transformed into a "smart city"- our Prime Minister's dream project.

Appeal - Mr. Finance Minister! Sir, I earnestly urge you to please revisit your decision with an open mind having regards to long term interest of the service. The service will remember you for ever as one who showed his sagacity and put the larger interest of the service above everything else by recalling a grossly flawed decision even though announced on the floor of one of the Houses of our Parliament.

On this, we had several comments in our Message box, some of which are extracted here:

The dissent note speaks volumes about the departmental mindset - The hidden agenda behind this note appears to be the lobby of officials not ready to move from Faridabad err...Delhi. While finding fault with Hindupur, the author cannot shirk the responsibility of showing a better alternative where the local Government is ready to allot such a huge area of land. When the Government wants to move one step forward, the bureaucrats (retired included) pull two steps backward.

Posted by tax netizen.

This dissent note is nothing but a grudge against the establishment of an institution in the South. Institutions like NACEN have become refuge and cool postings for senior bureaucrats to be nearer to Delhi and the power corridors, which gives them ample opportunities to lobby. This is only a training institution and it can be located anywhere in India and it need not be nearer to Delhi or Chennai. It seems this author has got hidden agenda in trying to show that there is a dissent on this issue.

Posted by CUSTOMS customs

The learned author has unwittingly revealed the secret behind this note when he said - those posted without their willingness are either not likely to join or proceed on long leave after forced joining - Does this mean the Government officers work only if they like the place of posting? In such a case, the academy should be placed in SIACHIN and anyone who refuses to work there should be retired.

Posted by anil kumar

IRS probationers have not descended directly from the Heavens. Whatever issues that the tens of thousands of the local people face, the IRS probationers can also face. Of course, it is expected that the Government would provide good physical, intellectual and electronic infrastructure which would ensure that, our most brilliant young officers do not have to roam around in the Hindupur streets to get potable water. The article is in very bad taste and confirms the continued intentions of the North based Babus to deny a good opportunity to an upcoming town, that is located so close to Bangalore. In fact, the decision to locate this training institute in Hindupur is a good beginning to develop towns that are located near big cities. And, why this objection to a training institute to be located at a place which is so near to one of the fastest growing cities, viz. Bangalore.

The author's comments on Hindupur, driven, as it seems, by considerations other than those related to the long-term welfare of the Department, are objectionable and have been made in bad taste.

As a practising Advocate and a concerned taxpayer citizen with no other agenda, I totally agree to the FM's proposal to set up this training institute at Hindupur (especially, given its proximity to Bangalore) and insist that, this proposal should be implemented at the earliest. For AP, under the ever-dynamic Mr Chandrababu Naidu, this would be a notable project.

S SIVAKUMAR, Advocate, Bangalore

Reminiscing about the event - Dr. Sreekumar Menon who was DG, NACEN at that time wrote in Mangalore Today:

When I assumed charge as the Director General of the National Academy of Customs, Excise & Narcotics (NACEN), now National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes & Narcotics (NACIN) at Faridabad, the file awaiting priority attention was the setting up of a new campus for NACIN. When I joined the IRS in 1978, the Batch strength was just 26, but in 2013 when I assumed charge as Director General, the intake of IRS officers was 200 in 2013, and projected at 250 for 2014. The Academy was woefully lacking in space and bursting at its seams. To tide over the accommodation crisis, several facilities were rented out from the National Institute of Financial Management (NIFM) located nearby at Faridabad.

After several rounds of intense deliberations with the Chairman and Members of the Central Board of Excise & Customs (now Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs), it was decided to procure 100 acres of land for setting up of a new academy. The file went to the then Revenue Secretary Shri. Shaktikanta Das, who is presently the RBI Governor and thereafter to the Finance Minister Shri. Arun Jaitley. One day I got a telephonic summons to meet the FM urgently at his office in North Block. It was my first meeting with him and I expected to encounter a garrulous and loquacious lawyer-statesman, but instead was surprised to meet an affable, soft-spoken gentleman, but he had a quiet determination and clear vision of what he was aiming at. He point-blank told me that he did not want any committees, meetings or discussions or hierarchies to be observed. He only wanted result-oriented action and asked me if I was willing to take up the challenge. I instantly expressed my readiness. In my presence he spoke telephonically to the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Shri. Chandrababu Naidu and sought his help for 100 acres of land. Thereafter I was directed to meet Mrs. Nirmala Seetharaman, who was for a short time holding the portfolio of Minister of State for Finance. She was dynamism personified, a flurry of phone calls to various Andhra Pradesh Ministers, and I was directed to proceed to Hyderabad to meet the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister.

Shri. Chandrababu Naidu the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister is another example of dynamism. Soft spoken, swift decision making capacity and clear commands to his subordinates that was the style of functioning. The District Collector of Hindupur was contacted and directed to identify 100 acres of land and show me the sites. The District Collector was very cordial and affable and took me around a number of sites. My choice fell on a tract of land measuring 500 acres, as it was abutting the National Highway. Other sites had to be rejected on account of various reasons like irregular size, remote locations and non-availability of drinking water. The matter was on the spot conveyed to the Chief Minister. Upon my return to Hyderabad the next day, the Chief Secretary handed over to me the allotment letter! Such was the remarkable speed of functioning. When I went to thank the Chief Minister, he was talking of the date for performing Bhoomi-poojan for the project! I was simply flabbergasted by the rapid style of functioning, no unnecessary discussions or dilly-dallying. Upon return to New Delhi a beaming FM Shri. Arun Jaitley gave the go ahead for the Bhoomi-poojan.

April 11th 2015 was fixed for the auspicious ceremony. Finance Minister Shri. Arun Jaitley would fly from Delhi to Bangalore and from there to Hindupur by helicopter; Andhra Pradesh CM would come by helicopter from Hyderabad. April 11th 2015 witnessed a mega show at Hindupur, which was attended by a galaxy of 4 Union Ministers including Shri. Venkaiah Naidu, presently the Honourable Vice President of India and Shri. Chandrababu Naidu the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. The Chief Guest on the occasion was Shri. Arun Jaitley. The function was graced by many MPs and MLAs.

Before I demitted office on 30th April 2015, one of the last files that I sent to the CBEC was a proposal to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle, to establish a National Tax University, and a Central Institute of Narcotics & Psychotropic Substances, apart from the main academy.

550 acres of land was the result of the sheer dynamism of Shri. Arun Jaitley. I sincerely wish that the proposed Academy would be named after him and an appropriate statue of his be erected there as a humble tribute of this nation to the architect of GST.

The academy is a reality and no less a person than the Prime Minister of India visited it yesterday.

Sometime back, a Commissioner told me that he asked for a posting at NACIN, Palasamudram near Hindupur and if the Government didn't give him that posting, it was not his loss. Officers are willing to work here.

Until next week


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