Volume 6 - Issue 12
DECEMBER - 2008
HARNESSING THE HEART - PART 13
Living Up to the Challenge of Conscience in Daily Life
THE Tax Officer with Two Pensions!
"What kind of pension, sir, do you receive from the Heavenly Father? Does He drop money in your lap?"
He laughed. "I meant a pension of fathomless peace . . .”
This conversation between Sri Paramahamsa Yogananda and his Guru in The Autobiography of a Yogi, immediately brings to my mind, Sri. P. S. Kannan, a retired Income Tax Official, known for his honesty and straight forwardness.
Whenever I read the “Harnessing the Heart” section of Heart2Heart, I had always wanted to meet him and get his inspiring story. He is one of the people I knew who has been consistent in his ethical practices in this ever-changing world! I know him professionally for more than 20 years, right from the time of my Chartered Accountancy Articleship training.
People who were aware of his unique character have always maintained a respectful fear because of the highest standards of integrity Mr. Kannan always set for himself! This was in the back of my mind, when I hesitatingly called him. But when I asked for his time, explaining the objective, he readily agreed. His voice was, as always, enthusiastic and cheerful.
When I reached his home, I was not surprised, having known him, to find that he was as simple as ever, with a dhoti and a vest. His house had simple but neat furnishing – slightly upgraded from the couple of wooden benches I used to see some 10 years ago!
He joined service in 1966 as an Upper Division Clerk in the Income Tax department and rose to the level of Additional Commissioner of Income Tax before retiring in June 2006.
Once, when he was assessing Government officials, there were some Wealth Tax arrears due from a very senior Government official. Without any hesitation, he had sent a formal notice as per the established procedure to the person. The concerned official, seeing the notice, not only readily agreed to pay the arrears, but also mentioned to his secretary, “I want to meet this person!” He was impressed by his moral fiber.
“Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.”
Another time, during the Wealth Tax assessment of a well-known personality, Mr. Kannan found that the value of a property was mentioned at a much lower figure, while advance received for selling just a part of the property was itself much more. Hence, he sent it for formal valuation, which resulted in the property being assessed at Rupees one crore!
“I think it is only fair that we pay our fair share of taxes here otherwise how do we make sure that the poor have access to education, healthcare etc.? So I am a firm believer in our
The person was very upset and personally came to his office and tried to convince him to assess the property at a lower value. He even invited Mr. Kannan to a party at his home, which Mr. Kannan flatly refused. Not only that he even conveyed politely yet firmly that what he had done was the right way to assess, and also that this will be the only way he would be doing it. The person became even more upset, but tried to now lure him with gifts. But what can tempt a person who considers righteousness as his very breathe?
The case ultimately was referred to an appellate authority, where it was not only confirmed that Kannan’s view point was right, but it was also well appreciated. Since his conscience was clear and the approach was as per the procedure, he was never under any tension, even though there was pressure from higher authorities.
"To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men."
When I asked him as to how he drew the spiritual strength required to face such challenging situations, he replied in his own inimitable style, “Following the right path by itself is a spiritual practice!” But then, he went on to say that he had the habit of writing Rama Nama (writing the name of Lord Rama) whenever he required to recharge himself. I remember an Indian folk song which goes like this:
“Chant the name Rama Rama. If you cannot do that, have the company of good people”
Once, after the completion of assessment of a leading business organization, the owner had given Mr. Kannan, a box of sweets. Only after he left, was Mr. Kannan shocked to find that the owner had actually kept an expensive gift in the box.
He immediately called that person and asked him to take the gift back. Kannan did not sleep the whole night and was relieved only after that box was returned the next day. The point here is tax assessments might be favorable to some while unfavorable to others. And dharmic leaders such as Kannan believe strongly in just doing what is right as per the law and not what would please others.
Mr. Kannan assures confidently that not even once had he the slightest wish to misuse his position for any personal advantage. In fact, there were occasions when he had taken his visitors to the office canteen and provided coffee or snacks to them as per the Indian tradition of Athithideivo Bhava (Guest is God).
Likewise, for deserving candidates from the lower strata of society, Kannan had recommended and got them educational scholarships from corporate foundations; none of the students were even personally known to him.
Formula for Success
While being transparent and honest, one must also be humble, and more importantly, intelligent and tactful, while dealing with cases. Mr. Kannan possessed these during all his dealings. Even as a file reached his table, if he felt that it could be an “influential case” - that is, the file of a person or entity who could try to circumvent the procedures - he ensured right from the beginning, to document every detail formally, before sending it to his superior. This way, he ensured that he did his part as per the right procedure.
Secondly, he always believed in putting forth his view point to his superiors with courage, though with humility. He was never scared of anybody as he was doing his duty as per dharma. Whenever his boss or any senior official’s opinion differed or when they were angry, he never reacted or retaliated immediately. He would rather return to his seat and after a considerable time-gap would go back to them and explain his view point. And this sense of timing, he recollects, invariably helped his cause.
He has always believed that a person with sufficient maturity and emotional mastery can deal with any person or situation, irrespective of the difficulty or complexity involved.
Another facet of his personality that awed me is that during his appraisal, he normally came to summarize his achievements in two lines, but his bosses invariably elaborated his achievements, which eventually used to end up to twelve lines!
On Time for 40 Years!
Throughout the forty years of his service, Mr. Kannan was always punctual to his office, dot on time. He was often addressed as the ‘Punctual Officer’! There was one senior official who used to call all officers over the Intercom at 9.20 a.m., and wish them, but never called Mr. Kannan. Curious, Mr. Kannan once asked him, “Why is it that you haven't called me, even once?” It was then that the officer explained, “I am calling all my officers to check and ensure they are on their seats on time. I do not have the necessity to call you; you are always punctual!”
“Friends and neighbors complain that taxes are indeed very heavy… but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride,
Mr. Kannan is an alumnus of A.M. Jain College, Chennai. He had imbibed this habit of punctuality right from his college days. Even when star cricket players like Venkataraghavan played matches at the college ground during class hours, all students religiously attended classes; not one would be found on the ground during the class!
Likewise, Kannan recollects that even players such as Venkataraghavan used to attend office in the afternoon, if the match was only in the morning. Probably that was the reason why cricket was once referred to as a gentleman’s game!
“Time is God”
Once when an attempt was made to check the attendance of all junior staff, Mr. Kannan (a senior official by then) had suggested that it is even more pertinent for the senior officials to be on time as they were provided with office cars for transportation! “Leaders must first set the right example themselves,” says Mr. Kannan.
Learning from Mentors
Kannan recollects that he had learnt many good things from his seniors right from his first year into the job. For instance, Mr. Muthu Balasubramaniam, a very senior official had taught him punctuality and to be systematic and effective in work. Even in 1967, when there were no computers or organizers, he had an impeccable system to ensure effectiveness.
He used to write down the list of tasks assigned to different team members and retained a carbon copy of that document to follow it up every evening. It is because he was so methodical that he had a strong grip over all tasks assigned!
Face the Fear!
Six months before retirement, Kannan was allotted to do “transfer pricing”, which was quite new to him. (“Transfer Pricing” refers to the pricing of assets, services, and funds transferred within an organization, for example, from a parent company to a foreign subsidiary.
Since the prices are set within an organization (i.e. controlled), this is a major concern for fiscal authorities who worry that multi-national entities may set transfer prices on cross-border transactions in such a manner so as to reduce taxable profits in their jurisdiction. This has led to the rise of transfer pricing regulations and enforcement, making this a major tax compliance issue for multi-national companies.)
His seniors had the confidence in him and he kept up to their expectation. He did not hesitate to take this up, even though he knew he was about to retire and this was completely a new area for him. “One must be ready to take up new areas with confidence and be ready to go forward even if through trial and error,” he says. “Consistent and sustained efforts, commitment to the cause, full involvement and honesty would only ensure one’s success in any endeavor.”
No Short Routes Please!
I remember many occasions when I had consulted Mr. Kannan on taxation-related technical matters. Throughout, Mr. Kannan did not encourage even a passing reference to anything related to avoiding tax, even if it’s his close relative or friend. “Because,” he says, “dharma is larger than any individual and more important than any relationship!”
“Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”
I could clearly observe one thing during the entire conversation. He never once described himself as being honest or ethical. He always gave more prominence to the principles and values rather than to his practicing them!
His wants have always been limited and hence they get fulfilled. He says that he is contented with what God has given him and thus, is leading a peaceful life. When he goes to bed, he falls asleep like a child without any thoughts worrying him. “This,” Mr. Kannan says, “is possible only if a person has a strong value system and transparency.”
Post retirement, Mr. Kannan considers the house he owns and lives in as God’s gift to him. The retirement benefits that he received, including the pension is sufficient for his family. And more than all these, he considers the guilt-free, peaceful retired life as, by itself, a great boon!
As I drove away from his house, I saw a huge banner advertisement of a leading brand of mattress guaranteeing a cozy sleep for its user. I wondered how many could get the boon of tranquil sleep as Mr. Kannan!
Illustrations: Ms. Lyn Kriegler Elliott.
Vol 6 Issue 12 - DECEMBER 2008
Best viewed in Internet Explorer - 1024 x 768 resolution.
DHTML Menu by Milonic
Story from Heart to Heart E-Magazine:
© H2H 2007