Leading a ‘Guard of Honour‘ for Chief Guests, usually bureaucrats, in his school, made a young scout dream of a role reversal. Kshatriya Vidya Sala was a CBSE school in Virudhanagar, which in the early eighties was part of West Ramanathapuram district. The Collector used to be stationed in Madurai and would travel all the way to Virudhanagar to preside over functions, making his presence rare; and therefore, special. It was not just VIP visits that inspired students. In his stentorian voice, the school founder Mc Mhoan, instilled in his boys, a sense of discipline and a desire to aim high. That was the starting point of a journey to the top echelons of the bureaucracy for a young Selvaganesh, who had already bagged the President’s Scout Award in school, having displayed a flair for signalling, morse code and observation – skills he claims, in hindsight, were carried into his profession.
In the mid eighties, when Selvaganesh completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Loyola College, he became the first graduate in his family of businesspersons. Post graduation was an opportunity for holistic development under the Jesuit priests. This is where his leadership skills came to the fore as he juggled multiple roles – as Secretary of Sports, Debating Society and also the Economics Association. Little did he realise to what extent these multi tasking abilities would help him in his career. “During our annual Association festival, going by the large turnout of students from women’s colleges in what was a male bastion, my HOD used to always ask me if we had invited any boys colleges at all!” However, that boyish mischievious streak took a back seat when family business duties beckoned. Selva was called to manage his grandfather’s dairy farm in Virudhanagar, soon after his post graduation. Back to his roots, as it were, he put systems in place at the farm and soon took up employment in the Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices, an organisation instrumental in fixing minimum support prices for crops.
A year later, that mandatory trip to Delhi for the Civil Services Examination happened. In his second attempt, this Gold Medallist from Loyola College breezed through the exam and got into the Indian Revenue Service (IRS). “I could have given it another shot and aimed for the IAS but everyone, especially my family, were happy with the IRS.”
Nagpur was where his IRS innings began, first as the Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax, a stint in administration at the Headquarters, where he had the opportunity to be a part of the cadre review resulting in 800 to 900 income tax officers getting promotions and later as the Assistant Director of Investigations.
Tamilnadu, sources claim, has for long been known for manpower shortage with senior Income Tax officers having to hold multiple charges. When he was posted to his home State, as Deputy Director – Investigation, stationed at Tirunelveli, this 1991 batch IRS officer ensured a declaration of 137 crore in a single case. For 5 years he served as the Additional Director of Income Tax in Madurai with additional charge of Coimbatore and Chennai. This is probably where Selvaganesh’s college multi tasking skills came in handy! Then came a long stint in Chennai as Additional Commissioner of Income Tax – at the Headquarters, looking after Administration, Vigilance, the Tax Deducted At Source (TDS) wing and finally International Taxation. By the end of 2012, Selva was promoted as the Commissioner of Income Tax and posted at Thiruvananthapuram, where he functioned for three financial years. Come June, 2015, an all new role was offered – as the Competent Authority & Administrator of the Smugglers & Foreign Exchange Manipulators Act (SAFEMA) and the Narcotics & Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. It’s a designation that is not too common and involves deciding on the forfeiture of ill-gotten property through smuggling and violation of foreign exchange laws. “I am in charge of 5 Southern States, including Telangana, and deal with the auction of forfeited properties. We have dealt with 75 to 80 such properties so far.”
Most income tax officers would spend about 3 years in investigative roles. Selvaganesh has 14 years tucked under his belt in hard core investigation of tax evasion and financial fraud. Over this decade and a half that saw him conducting politically sensitive raids, not to speak of successful prosecution of six defaulters in Chennai and the launching of prosecution against eight in Trivandrum, he proudly recalls three big breakthroughs as highlights in his career. The zeroing in on a tycoon who had been evading arrest for a long time and had returned to India on a bogus passport, wrapped up an 800 crore scam. “I found the leads provided by an investigative business journalist quite useful in my hunt for this industrialist.” In Madurai, “we unearthed a nexus between doctors and diagnostic centres with kickbacks of 7.5 crore on a single day.” Having created systems that ensured routine transfers and promotions happen promptly, Selvaganesh gets emotional while recounting a compassionate appointment case. “If an appointment of an heir or dependent of an officer who dies in harness is delayed, how can it be called a ‘compassionate appointment’? In a particular case, we got the wife of a deceased officer a job barely 3 months after his death.”
It’s not all boring number crunching for this dashing tax officer. An avid sportsman, Selvaganesh seldom misses his game of tennis, the secret behind his flat tummy and a possible six pack concealed beneath his formal attire! A state level athlete in Discus and Shot Put, not many are aware that he has been the Vice President of the Tamil Nadu Amateur Athletic Association. “In 2009, I was the Manager of the Indian National Athletics Team and led a contingent of 50 athletes to the Asian Circuit in China. I was also a Technical Delegate from India for the Guangzhou Asian Games in China.” Widely travelled, Selvaganesh toured Finland as a Rotary GSE Scholar in 2006, underwent training at Slovenia and Austria and Duke University, USA and completed an Advanced Mid Career Training Programme at Syracuse University, New York.
Married to Vanaja, an Economics graduate from Nagercoil, Selvaganesh swears it was not through his college Economics Association Festival! Their elder son Sarath Ganesh didn’t quite fancy taxation, choosing to become a doctor instead and is into his final year at Sri Ramachandra Medical College. Monish, the younger lad will soon complete his schooling at DAV, Gopalapuram.
Quite a voracious reader of both fiction and non fiction, Selvaganesh will also turn author soon with a Mathematical Model on Taxation of Agriculture. The release may well happen at the National Academy of Direct Taxes where he regularly delivers lectures. If the default impression of a tax officer is adversarial, here’s a firm believer in the words of Lord Tennyson from the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’: “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or die.” A ‘friendly taxman’ may be as much of an oxymoron as an ‘honest auto driver’ but that’s what makes this officer stand head and shoulders over many of his peers. Even quite literally.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Columnist, Author, Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7 and Public Speaking Mentor)