It was December 1984. I had just completed the registration formalities for Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement. I did not know what to do next. Some one told me that i needed to have Income Tax exemption to get donations. I did not know what this meant. Those were the days when not knowing something was never a problem or an impediment. For me, it was fun to discover how these things operated. I decided to pay a visit to the Income Tax office at Mysore. In the eighties, Mysore was considered to be too small a town to have a full-fledged Income Tax Commissioner and all the files had to be cleared from Bangalore. I walked into the office located in an old building (looked more like a palace in ruins) in Nazarbad near the Government house. I went to the clerk at one of the windows and asked him how to get tax exemptions. He was polite enough in referring me to one of the tax inspectors.
The tax inspector (I think his name was Mr Padmanabha) turned out to be of great help. At first he was amused and then, wanted to hear my story. I explained to him about SVYM, my dreams and aspirations and rather naively told him that I needed the exemption in order to collect donations. He patiently tried explaining to me how to fill the form but after some effort, volunteered to do it himself. After filling out the form, he told me that those things took time to process and I had to keep following up. To me, ‘following up’ meant going to the office everyday! Little did I realize that I was turning out to be quite a nuisance there and that in Government parlance, it implied something else altogether!
After about a month, Padmanabha told me that he had processed my file and it was now with the Deputy Commissioner. He also told me that I should be expecting the 12A registration by the end of the week and the file for tax exemption under Sec.80(G) would be sent to the Bangalore office for further processing. He specifically told me not to indulge in too much of ‘follow-up’ and to go to Bangalore maybe after 2-3 months.
This time, I waited more than 3 months and then went to meet him again. He asked me to visit the Bangalore office located at Queens Road. I went there the next day itself. I was wondering how things operated there and whom to meet with, when I suddenly remembered Padmanabha mentioning that the file had to be finally signed by the Commissioner. Ignorance was indeed bliss, as I did not have the faintest idea how senior would a Commissioner be. I asked around and located his office on the 3rd floor. Not being conversant with any office etiquette, I just entered his room as the door was open. Little did I realize that I could walk in only because the doorman had gone out for his cup of evening coffee!
The commissioner was another wonderful person. Though not amused at my unannounced intrusion, he patiently asked me how he could be of help to me. I candidly told him that he could help me by giving SVYM the tax exemption. He started laughing and told me that he was impressed with my courage and conviction and also amused at my naivety. After a few minutes of trying to explain how the Government offices functioned, he told me that he would give me the necessary registration and exemptions if I could locate my file and bring it to him by the end of the day. It was around 3.30 pm and he said he would be in his office till 6 pm.
The next 2 hours were a real lesson for me in how things worked in the Govt and how I could make things work to my advantage. I went to the doorman who was not sure what my relationship with the Commissioner was and asked him who the person immediately below in the hierarchy was. I then went to the Deputy Commissioner and told him that the Commissioner had sent me and asked him about the file. He could not locate it and sent me further down to the Assistant Commissioner in-charge of the exemptions department. The magic words were ‘the Commissioner has sent me’, which was not untrue but it really worked wonders. The ‘reverse follow up’ led me to the point where the file had been first received. It was the office of the PRO and the officer was Mr.Gopalan. Again I had to repeat the whole story and he asked me to look around in his room. There were hundreds of files all over and my heart sank when he told me that he could process my file only after he could locate it. After a few minutes of silence, he casually told me that he could help me if I could locate the file myself.
Many events that have happened over the last 25 years of SVYM may appear to be beyond human comprehension and sound irrational too. This was one of those. From amongst the hundreds of files, the second or third file I looked was that of SVYM. Excited, I took it to Gopalan who promptly signed with the notation ‘forwarded’. I realized that this was indeed a loaded word, especially since people thought that the Commissioner was interested in this ‘case’. I now made the journey back all over again, passing through each of those sacred bureaucratic steps and finally landed at the office of the Commissioner. This time the doorman just waved me in as he thought that his boss knew me well. The Commissioner was more than surprised when he saw me standing with the file. He was impressed on hearing the story of how I had located the file and ‘zipped’ it through all his officers and had all the notations in place. He said perseverance of this kind needed to be rewarded. He called his PA and literally pleaded with her to type the order and bring it to him for his signature. It was already 6 pm! I meekly offered to type the order out if it would help. Smiling, the Commissioner told me that I had done enough and I would get the order. True to his words, he gave me the 80(G) exemption certificate and wished me well in the work that I had set out to do.
Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement today is a large organization running more than 60 projects all over Karnataka. More than 450 people in SVYM today are reaching out to nearly 6 million people directly or indirectly. It is easy for our friends and well-wishers to look at our achievements and credit it all to our work and efforts. What is not easily seen is the support, encouragement and help that we have been getting from hundreds of people like Padmanabha and the Income Tax Commissioner.
It was indeed very nostalgic for me to meet with Padmanabha nearly 20 years later, at the new office of the Income Tax Commissioner at Mysore (now it is a much larger office with hundreds of personnel). He was serving as the HQA of the Commissioner and fondly recalled our brief but fruitful relationship!