Though my versatile engagements find me on a great many speaking platforms from time to time, being invited as Chief Guest on Customs’ Day ( celebrated on 2.2.2012) for the 50th anniversary of the Act’s enforcement was rather overwhelming- a homecoming with much sentiment packed in. It is impossible to spend ten years of one’s life in a particular career, especially the very opening years of one’s working life without the experience leaving a permanent mark in one’s heart and mind.
The past came alive as smartly uniformed Inspectors came home and escorted me to the venue of the afternoon function- formalities I really didn’t expect in the casual tenor of life outside Service. Though I left the Indian Revenue Service in the year 2000, the sea of many familiar faces lent a sense of being back with members of a dear and long lost family.
My pleasure was all the greater to be here on the invitation of the dynamic and genial Commissioner, Mr Subbayya Choudhary, a good friend of long standing of both Mr Mehta and myself. Our friendship goes back to our days as Probationers in NACEN ,Madras, when as a senior colleague he affectionately mentored us on life in the department.
My former office, it seemed was happy with my attainments since the time I left the Department, principally my literary achievements. In my address I was quick to emphasize that my book is not a scholarly legal guide or such but a work of general fiction. One may wonder at the connection of this department with literature, but it’s not as distant as it seems. Many years ago, Mr G Sreekumar, (now Commisioner Goa) released his volume of poems “ Orbit of a Thousand Years” and my late mother Louella Lobo Prabhu was the Chief Guest. In 2005, I was associated with the sharing of Chief Commissioner Dr GK Pillai’s book “ Upanishads and Modern life” and later on with his novel “ Queen of Genes.”
Some years ago, I gave a talk on the radio entitled “ The Roots of my Writing”where I recalled creating fictional scenarios and deeply thinking about life’s issues on the daily drives from my home in the city to Custom House. During the gaps between disposal and arrival of files, I commenced the jottings that have found their way to my diverse writings. So yes, I definitely owed the beginnings of creative self-discovery to my years in that very location.
At the same time I enjoyed my job which had its own stimulation and excitement. I still remember the trail blazing raids on cannabis plantations in the Kodchadri hills that were a wake up call to all departments and even grabbed the State Assembly’s attention.The seizure of imported diesel engines was an eyeopener to coastal smuggling of a bulky and unusual item.
It should be a matter of general satisfaction that the Customs Act, has finished 50 worthy years. Amidst the many complicated legislations, including the sister Central Excise Act, the Customs Act is relatively compact and straightforward, deserving to be widely emulated.
I have visited about 20 countries in the last few years, and I’m pleased to report that both in India and internationally, one’s passage through Customs as a tourist has been very smooth. It’s good to know that greater synergies internationally will further streamline processes. Unlike other departments , the Customs is unique because it has goals beyond national imperatives alone, stemming from global commitments in areas like narcotics, antiquities and wildlife protection. I am appalled to learn for example that rhino horn is the biggest contraband item in value terms, and the clamour for this item in Far Eastern markets is resulting in the decimation of a gentle and precious African species. The examples can be multiplied. Such global concerns would certainly benefit from greater collaborations across borders.
We know that countries like Greece have gone bankrupt because the huge gap between public expenditure and revenue must be met with from massive debt and borrowings. In India, the position is much healthier, because of comparatively clear headed policies and officers doing their jobs relatively sincerely in partnership with industry, trade, services and individual tax payers for a collective nation building exercise.
I can truly say I enjoy the continuing adventures and challenges of my life outside government. But my pride in having been part of nation building is intact, because it is principally through the difficult job of revenue collection that infrastructure growth and welfare state functions happen . A very good wish, then and now to my former organization in the progress chart of the Indian nation and important global goals.