From a small town to Additional Commissioner of Income Tax: Story of IRS officer, Satya Pinisetty
Lots of young Indians aspire to become an IRS officer, but the competition is tough. The preparation requires undivided attention. Additional Commissioner of Income Tax shares how he became one.
- Hi, I am Satya Pinisetty, an IRS officer and Additional Commissioner of Income Tax. From August 2022, I will be posted in the Income Tax Overseas Unit in The Hague, Netherlands.
- Civil Services Exams are not easy, competing with almost 600k - 700k candidates for a limited number of seats. I took two attempts and eventually cleared the exams in 2009.
- I chose to be an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer and after a 16-month meticulous training, I was posted in the Corporate Taxation Department in Hyderabad.
- Here is my journey.
Dreaming the civil services dream
I come from a remote town located in Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh.
My father is an ex-serviceman, so intuitively he got me admitted to Sainik School – an education institute, which in addition to normal academics also prepares students physically and mentally for entry into the Defence Services of India.
And yes it helped me define my career path, which was to become an army officer.
After my 12th grade, I applied at National Defence Academy to enter the Indian Air Force. I studied hard, cleared my written exam and my interview also.
But unfortunately, there was a problem with my ear at that time, hence I could not fit their physical standard.
What next now?
IRS preparation or Ph.D., what to pick?
Once I missed the window to get into the armed forces, I figured the next best thing for me would be to become a civil servant.
You can do your graduation in any subject and still appear for the Civil Services exam. I did my undergraduate studies in agriculture and post that my Masters.
First of all, the number of vacancies in a year would be around 700 (it changes every year), and second of all, there would be around 500k or 600k candidates giving the exam.
Because of that, it is always nice to have a backup plan, for me, it was Ph.D. in Biotechnology from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in Delhi.
Since I was doing my Ph.D. along with my Civil Services exam preparation I did not have enough time to attend any coaching classes.
Unfortunately, I could not clear my Civil Services exam on the first attempt.
Hence for my second attempt, I requested my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Padma Ramachandran, to give me two month break so that I could prepare for my final exams. And she was really understanding about it and gave me permission.
I came back to Hyderabad, locked myself in a room, switched off my mobile phone, and started studying diligently without meeting my parents or anybody for two months.
After two months, I gave my final exams, and as luck would have it I got through my civil services exam in my second year of Ph.D.
That was exactly what I was hoping for, so without thinking twice I discontinued my Ph.D. and chose IRS as my career in 2009.
I must say, I dedicated two whole years to the preparation.
The meticulous training that creates an IRS officer
Initially, all qualified civil services candidates go through a 3-month foundation course.
This course is generally held in Mussoorie. Otherwise, if the batch gets too big they divided them into two to three groups, and send them to Hyderabad and Bhopal.
It is a general training where you are taught about, public administration, economics, history, and culture & values of our country.
After this three-month period, all the officers that are placed in the Income Tax Department are sent to the National Academy of Direct Taxes in Nagpur.
Then comes the 16-month long departmental training.
The officers who deal with Direct Taxes are trained in Nagpur, and the ones who deal with Indirect Taxes, are trained in Faridabad.
Here the IRS officers are taught everything from debit, credit, tax accounting, tax law, the constitution, and economics.
It was not so tough for me because I was always good at mathematics and science. But for some people, it might be.
We also get practical training teaching us how an officer is supposed to behave or work in the field, and a bit of forensic science, because a lot of officers are sent for investigation.
It's a lot like college where you can play sports in your free time but we mostly spend our time on courses such as tax, accounting, and law.
Word of advice, take your IRS training very seriously. The training of IRS officers is considered one of the toughest, at least mentally. It could be even more difficult than other civil services training in my opinion.
On top of that, the officer trainees have to clear even more exams during that period. And if they don't, their allotment of IRS will be cancelled.
Finally, after the 16-month thorough training, the officers are posted across the country.
Starting my journey as an IRS officer
Once I entered IRS, I decided to work in almost all the fields, and wings of IRS, be it corporate taxation, investigation, international taxation or transfer pricing.
In the beginning, I got posted in the Corporate Taxation Department in Hyderabad. I handled some pretty important cases over there.
For the first six, or seven years of my career, I served in Hyderabad and got a hang of everything in Income Tax.
I was posted in the investigation wing after which I was posted based on my interest.
After that, I worked in international taxation for nearly four years as a Deputy Commissioner and also as a Joint Commissioner.
Soon after I was posted on promotion to Mumbai where I worked in Transfer Pricing.
The most exciting part during that period was when I was awarded the Chevening Scholarship from the Government of the UK. I took a study leave and went to London to pursue my LLM in International Taxation law.
I am proud to announce that the government has posted me as First Secretary at the Embassy of India in The Hague, Netherlands.
A day in the life of an IRS Officer
A regular day for an IRS Officer varies depending on the department or the posting.
Say, I am posted in an investigation, of course, the day is going to be tougher than usual. A raid would start at five o'clock in the morning and go on for days.
So somedays I would have to go without sleeping for straight 48 hours with just a quick nap in between.
Then if officers are posted in the corporate taxation or other departments, it's not so brutal. It would start at around 9.30 in the morning.
Generally, they try to wrap it up by 6’o clock unless some big cases come up. If time barring dates are nearing, they rush and work the whole night in the office.
But people can always manage their time. If you can manage it well, you can have a good time at work.
And as far as I have seen, IRS officers mainly have that time management skill at their disposal.
Growth for IRS officers
For an IRS officer, if he is recruited through civil services, the first posting, would be an Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax.
So as time progresses his next promotion would be Deputy Commissioner, then Joint Commissioner, Additional Commissioner, and then Commissioner.
Some people go on to become Chief Commissioners and some even go to the Central Board of Direct Taxes. So if you have time on your side and if you perform well in your career you can always aspire to become a Member of the Board, which is equal to the Secretary to the Government of India.
But IRS officers are not limited to just the Income Tax Department. They are also posted on Deputation to Enforcement Directorate, CBI, Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, SEBI, and Competition Commission of India.
Many IRS officers go on deputation and work in the state governments.
And many of them work in the central ministries as Deputy Secretary, Director, Joint Secretary, Additional Secretary, and Secretary. After retirement, we have seen many IRS officers becoming Election Commissioner or Chief Election Commissioner.
Some of them become the Members of Union Public Service Commission or Members of Tribunals. Some IRS officers also work in embassies abroad. I am right now posted in the Income Tax Overseas Unit in the Hague, Netherlands.
The field is vast for an IRS officer. He/she will not be limited to his core department, that is the tax department. Some of them work in PSUs as board members, CFOs, or CEOs. I would say the sky is the limit.
You should have the interest to go outside your area of comfort and try to work and get experience in other sectors as well.
The Civil Services exam is very inclusive. There are a lot of optional subjects as well as languages that you can choose from. It can be Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Punjabi, Bengali, or whatever language you are most comfortable with.
Anybody can take the exam, and based on their aptitude and rank they will be allocated to one of the Services. IRS was my second option because I was always inclined toward Law.
But before that, you should know that it is no piece of cake.
Have a backup plan; it gives you a sense of security, but do not rely too much on your backup plan as it will dilute the journey towards your target.
Before starting your preparation for the civil services exam make a five-year plan. You could also make it within two, or three years, otherwise, it takes a lot of time and effort.
I know, being 21 to 30 years of age you would not be able to enjoy your youth properly. But once you make it, you would have achieved your goal, and your sacrifices would be worth it.