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The Rediff Special/A Ganesh Nadar
October 06, 2004
We never expected to get an interview with the chief income tax commissioner easily. But after keeping us hanging for three months with her disarming politeness, she finally acceded. We were asked to see Urvashi Saxena at 3pm in her office at Aaykar Bhavan, the building that houses the IT department near Mumbai's Churchgate station.
We reached 15 minutes early. The PA informed us that madam was not in, but if she had asked us to come she would definitely arrive on time.
Known to be a no-nonsense, upright bureaucrat, Saxena arrived on the dot and we were ushered in immediately.
Her office was huge, befitting the chief income tax commissioner of Mumbai.
Saxena has been in government service before man landed on the moon. She was one among the numerous wheels that grind day in and day out to make the bureaucracy function smoothly, but was never in the limelight... until she joined a department that has never won any awards for popularity – income tax.
As we talk, an auditor argues with her saying that it is not ethical to tax export companies with retrospective effect. She tells him gently but firmly that it might not be ethical, but it is certainly legal. The government has the right to make laws and also the right to make them applicable with retrospective effect.
She has the reputation of being an honest officer. It is easy to be honest with a disarming smile, she says. We don't argue.
Does an upright officer who heads one of the busiest public departments in the busiest financial hub of the country have a family life at all, we wonder. "I try and spend as much time as possible with my family," says Saxena. "I spend quality time with them. At home I am a regular housewife. I cook, wash, and clean like any other lady. And I enjoy doing it."
Saxena grew up in the historic city of Allahabad. "I had a protected and happy childhood. I grew up in a city known for its academic excellence. Ours was a big joint family. My grandfather was in the legal profession. He was the first advocate general of UP," she says, with obvious pride. "I have happy memories of my childhood."
Having grown up in the house of a top government servant, it is no surprise that she chose to follow in his footsteps. "I studied in Allahabad till my post-graduation, after which I appeared for the civil services exams and passed." Saxena joined government service on July 3, 1968, which introduced her to the rough and tumble of babudom. Then she went to Nagpur, where she learned the nuances of her present job – income-tax administration.
Saxena talks fondly about her student days in Allahabad. "I did my post-graduation in history there," she remembers. "I majored in history. My two other subjects were English literature and philosophy."
Saxena's love for philosophy endures. She is an avid reader of metaphysics and likes literature, especially fiction. "Nowadays I read up a lot of metaphysics. I read poetry. I have also read Aristotle," she says.
By this time whatever notions we had about high-level bureaucrats being some kind of automatons had been destroyed. To top it all, she agreed to a photo session not only in her office but also later in her home.
Chief income tax commissioner of Mumbai, and the first woman to hold that post, Saxena makes being a top official and a warm human being at the same time look easy.
Also Read: 'I-T refund will soon go directly to your bank'