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IPS officer runs campaign against tax evaders

Sameer Wankhede has booked 2,500 affluent people so far for trying to evade tax.

Kiran Tare  Mumbai | 30th Nov 2013

Sameer Wankhede

ameer Wankhede, deputy commissioner with the Maharashtra Service Tax Department, has booked around 2,500 people for tax evasion over the last three years. The tax evaders also include more than 200 celebrities. Wankhede's action added a revenue of Rs 87 cr in the Union government's exchequer last year. This is a kind of record in Mumbai since a couple of years.

Wankhede, a 2004 batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, got his first posting in Mumbai at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in 2007 as a deputy customs commissioner. He had served in Andhra Pradesh and New Delhi earlier. He soon realised that his juniors were more interested in running behind celebrities, arriving from foreign countries, for their autographs, rather than checking their luggage. Wankhede began to stop the celebrities from leaving the customs area until they revealed their purchases made in foreign countries and paid the requisite tax. He found that celebrities often did not disclose their purchases. Every passenger is allowed to carry foreign goods worth Rs 35,000. They have to pay 36% duty on goods worth more than Rs 35,000. Customs officers have powers to arrest anyone whose fine amount is more than Rs 5 lakh.

"Many female actors bring jewellery from London and Dubai. They shouted at me whenever I imposed a fine on them for tax evasion. Thinking I was a cub, they also threatened to report me to my on-duty seniors. But when I told them that I was the senior most officer on duty, they would be surprised," says the 33-year-old Wankhede with a smile.

Wankhede did not recognise all the celebrities. His juniors told him their names. According to the rules, every passenger must carry the luggage on their own while passing through the customs area. However, celebrities generally ask their assistants to carry their luggage. "Celebrities do so to escape action in the event that an officer finds more goods than what they declare. We cannot fine the assistants. So I asked the celebrities to carry their own luggage," he said.

Wankhede is the son of a retired police officer. He has vivid memories about the celebrities' response when he imposed fines on them. He had called back an actor from a royal family from his home when he found that his assistant was carrying undisclosed luggage. "Initially, the actor was very rude. But when I explained to him the rules and warned him that I could put him behind bars for evading tax he immediately paid the fine."

A cricketer had requested Wankhede to allow his friend to carry 18 wine bottles without paying tax during the 2011 World Cup. "The cricketer's friend had arrived from South Africa. He called the cricketer at 3 am and handed over the phone to me. I charged duty on 16 bottles because only two bottles of liquor are duty free."

Wankhede had imposed a fine of Rs 4 lakh on a businessman's wife for evading tax. "The businessman told me that Rs 4 lakh was like peanuts to him but refused to pay the fine. He is fighting a case with the Customs Department over the fine," said Wankhede.

He fined Bollywood superstars like Katrina Kaif and Ranbir Kapoor but recalls actor Anushka Sharma more. "She was the most rude of all the celebrities. She tried to throw tantrums when I stopped her and asked her to produce the bill of the jewellery she had purchased," he said.

Wankhede, who was born and brought up in Mumbai, is a film lover but does not like any specific actor. His favourite is Ajay Devgan. "Fortunately, Devgan paid all his taxes and never tried to escape whenever I was on duty. He always followed rules and showed us the bills of his purchases overseas. Kareena Kapoor used to ask my juniors whether I was on duty whenever she arrived at the airport," he said. He believes that his stringent stand and his superiors' support helped him to perform his duty in the right spirit. "Many people complained to my superiors against me because I refused to give them special treatment but my superiors never interfered in my job," Wankhede said.

Wankhede got transferred to the Sales Tax Department a few months ago. He issued notices to actor Sunny Deol and Pakistani singer Adnan Sami for not paying their taxes since a couple of years within a week of assuming the charge. "I cannot tolerate violation of rules. It does not matter who is violating them," he said. He has received several complaints against builders for not paying service tax. Around 360 builders from Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai are on his radar. He is all set to send them notices for recovering the tax amount.

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