The Beginning of my journey and its end in the Department

Somesh Arora

Somesh Arora is an Indian Revenue Service officer of the 1986 batch. He voluntarily retired in 2008 from the rank of Commissioner of Customs and Excise. He is now an advocate, journalist, tax author and columnist. He has a keen interest in astrology and poetry.

Every life has a different story with a purpose of its own. The jigsaw puzzle of life starts falling in place and is always better understood when in the later part of life one takes a hindsight view.

A small incident in life prompted me to come to the Department. It was in 1970’s when I had just begun my college life.

One day I had a small throat ailment and had to visit a Homeopathic Doctor. I did not bunk my classes as I had two consecutive free periods. The clinic was run by a charitable hospital and was usually busy. Patients were accommodated by allotting numbers and had to wait for their turn.

The wait for me that day was rather becoming long as I had to attend the third period of an important subject, after the two free periods. While the wait was still on, a lady arrived along with two smartly turned up officers in uniform and was attended out of turn by the Doctor for about 15 to 20 minutes. The delay meant that I had to miss my class.

When my turn came I, being my usual expressive self, asked the Doctor as to why he had to break his own rules and accommodate people out of turn. Surprised at my query, the Doctor replied that the lady I was referring to was the Assistant Commissioner of Central Excise and was accommodated, as she was an important person.

The slight made me resolve to be the same important person as that lady was. Years later in 1981-82, I took my first shot at Indian Civil Services Exam in Amritsar, where only very few knew about Civil Services and there was hardly any guidance or coaching available. The first attempt itself took me to the interview stage.

While waiting for my turn at Dhaulpur House, a Clerk loudly called out my name. I packed up my files to be ready to go inside for the interview but the Clerk had other ideas. He loudly asked me if I knew anything about Civil Services? Surprised at his question, I asked him why he was asking. He replied that you are the only one at the interview stage who has filled up Indian Customs and Excise as the first preference. The whole hall had a hearty laugh. He convinced me and made me change my first preference to IAS, IFS etc. When the result eventually came, the attempt went waste despite my doing well in personality test.

Years later in 1986, I finally made it with a rank which allowed me to select IPS or Indian Customs and Central Excise Services. As the latter was the preferred one, I got into it and then did my probation for two years.

1986 batch of the Indian Revenue Service at the time of probation.

1986 batch of the Indian Revenue Service at the time of probation.


During probation we had occasion to be addressed by Shri J. P. Dutta, who was Chairman, C.B.E.C at that time.

Many of my batch mates, while undergoing training in Chennai, had to face ailments like typhoid as the acute water shortage and supply through tankers left us to drink some kind of contaminated water.

The story was no different at R.T.I., Bhandup in Bombay. Only this time, mosquitoes were taking us to task through malaria.

The vocal ones among the probationers decided to bring their grievances before the Chairman, driven by the desire to at least get a better deal for the forthcoming batches.

As soon as they started, they were disrupted by Mr. J. P. Dutta, who commented that while being taken in the service no one was promised conditions better than those in which the common citizens of India live; and that every one out of us had signed the dotted line on the agreement of service with full awareness of all terms and conditions. Therefore, it was expected of all the officers to accept whatever was offered or to exercise the right to quit rather than cribbing about service conditions.

Everyone became quiet after such a straight forward remark. Perhaps whatever he stated had a little deeper impact on me.

On getting my first posting in Delhi, providence had a plan to induct me in the Service by reporting to the same lady who was holding charge of Deputy Commissioner (P & V), New Delhi at that time. I recognized her and now knew her name to be Ms. Parveen Mahajan. Years in service made me understand that she was very dignified officer and accomplished in her own right. With passage of time and after I voluntarily left the service she went on to become the first Chairperson of the service. I got a chance to work with her at CEGAT, New Delhi.

Seizure of foreign currency hidden inside cricket bats at IGI Airport, Delhi in 1992.

Seizure of foreign currency hidden inside cricket bats at IGI Airport, Delhi in 1992.


Years went on in the Service, with ups and downs as usual in the life of any officer. Fortunately, there were more ups than downs.

1986 batch of the Indian Revenue Service at a get-together.

1986 batch of the Indian Revenue Service at a get-together.


However, the premature end of service came at least twelve years before the due date of superannuation for me in the year 2008.

I had taken over the charge of Additional Director General (ADG), DGCEI, Bangalore, in the year 2006 when it was the smallest Zonal Unit and under-performing to boot. Its detection and recoveries were even lesser than the Regional Unit of Pune.

By the year 2008, I had been away from my family for almost 6 years. In two years at Bangalore, I had with my team made the Unit as the highest performing through robust detection of Service Tax cases. This included considering taxing of proceeds from organizing Lottery which led to Martin Lottery case and has thereafter been always treated as having potential of reoccurring revenue of more than One Thousand Five Hundred Crores (1500 Crores) per year and has led to even change in the definition of ‘actionable claim’ under GST.

I ensured that most of the staff working in DGCEI, Bangalore got their Presidential award which was till then was a rare occurrence.

After being away from family for six years, I made requests for the first time in my career for transfer to Delhi or around and had even in hand certain acceptances for deputation positions also. But same were rejected on the ground of a Transfer Policy made out by the then Finance Minister Shri P. C. Chidambaram.

My children who were left behind in Delhi where my wife was working as a Teacher were in school when I left and had become college pass outs when I decided to quit. Never did I try to meet any one over my request which were initially due to my mother suffering from cancer and being treated in Delhi.

The expense of two establishments had left the family with little savings. At that time I was reminded of the words of the first Chairman of the Service whom I had occasion to meet in NACEN. It was time to quit at the zenith of my career rather than begging for posting.

March 28, 2008, my last working day with the Indian Revenue Service at DGCEI, Bangalore.

March 28, 2008, my last working day with the Indian Revenue Service at DGCEI, Bangalore.


But all decisions in life I had taken with divine approval and mandate. This time it was Sai Baba in Putta Purti (then in his worldly form) who was chosen as a medium to have my decision.

Once I had that approval, I worked out one or two options in the Corporate world through interviews. Whatever was learnt through Department was always coming handy.

I finally decided to put in my papers to join Reliance Haryana SEZ in Delhi, to be with my family. The concern was a semi-government company and though the project got called off, it provided me sufficient financial cushion to launch my further career in ‘legal and consultancy profession’ for which nature had prepared me years back when I was a JDR in CEGAT, New Delhi.

Life has always taken interesting turns and had so much to offer. The Department has sweet memories to carry forward and it was always a great learning experience gained by rotating myself from position to position and from Ministry to Ministry.

March 28, 2008, my last working day with the Indian Revenue Service at DGCEI, Bangalore.

March 28, 2008, at DGCEI, Bangalore: leaving the office for the last time.


I have enjoyed the freedom afforded to me after voluntary retirement to the hilt by having multiple roles of being a journalist, columnist, author of legal texts, advocate and astrologer and talk shows on T.V. and other media and at varied seminars.

Astrology, which I picked up as a hobby while in service in 1994, enabled me to earn an all India silver medal and to represent India in Geneva Festival and at the United Nations. It has helped me in making friends internationally.

Awarded a silver medal in astrology by Finance Minister, Shri P. Chidambaram.

Awarded a silver medal in astrology by Finance Minister, Shri P. Chidambaram.


I am indebted to the service for having shown me charges from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and for having allowed to study abroad and visit more than 30 countries for investigation or for holding textile exhibitions.

My advice to all the officers in service will be to use the great opportunity they get of being part of this many faceted service which has presence in coasts, borders, hinterlands, seas, air and even overseas and to create their own intellectual worth. Do have your own hobbies and stay away from politics of any kind. With that success will touch their feet anywhere. Live with dignity and treat others the same way.


Enjoyed write-up cum journey of's quite inspiring. It's not an easy decision to leave golden career when you're at peak but there is a saying that you can't fly and roar in the sky unless don't leave the branch. Same is with me, started career with Indian railways as section officer and then joined department and served for 21 years but not satisfied the way life was going(getting retire at the age of 60 & doing mundane work) so took VRS at RIL SEZ Jamnagar when still 14 years service was to go. My friend who launched a company few year back at that time was doing pretty well, offered me a coveted position as Head Corporate Affairs, accepted and pursuing for last five years along with hobbies of trekking/hiking/marathon/writing/social service and making new friends everyday.

The biggest risk is not taking any risk.

A very inspirational read sir. Hats off to officers like you who give all of their self to the nation unconditionally.

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