Wisdom Stories Ep.51: Prasana Kumar Dash

Mr. Prasana Kumar Dash

Cultural expectations surrounding the elderly are being challenged today, and with good reason!

While it was the norm to slow down and retreat into a quieter life post-retirement, more men and women are finding purpose and joy in doing the opposite.

WisdomCircle honours such men and women by shining light on their journey through an inspiring series called “Wisdom Stories”. These people have successfully smashed stereotypes, and their stories remind us that life should be lived to the fullest, no matter what age or stage.

“I joined Indian Revenue Services when I was 22 years old and went on to take roles of increasing responsibilities as Assistant Director, Joint Director, Commissioner and Chief Commissioner of Income Tax. I was Director General of the Election Commission of India and retired as a Member and Special Secretary of the Central Board of Direct Taxes in 2020.

I had a degree in law, which came in handy post-retirement. On the back of my professional experience, I started practice as an advocate, representing cases in the Income Tax Tribunal, High Court and Supreme Court. I focus on financial matters like PMLA, Benami Properties Act, Black Money Act, Income Tax law, Service Tax matters, etc. I find that many people suffer due to a lack of understanding of the law of the land, as well as a lack of representation, and I try to help them. Not all offenders are criminals and should not be treated as such.

My other engagements include driving the Purbasa Folk and Tribal Art Museum and Odiart Centre (showcasing folk and indigenous art from Odisha) that I set up at Barkul village in the proximity of Chilka Lake, near Bhuvaneshwar. I also set up a Public Library, “Prafulla Pathagar,” in a village in Odisha some 30 years ago and continue to support it. I consider these projects to be my two children, in addition to my two daughters.

The turning point in my career came in 1996, just prior to the Cricket World Cup tournament being hosted in the Indian subcontinent. As Joint Commissioner of TDS, I found irregularities in the accounts of PILCOM, a company formed with a Pakistani, Indian and Sri Lankan Joint Committee associated with this tournament. I was up against a powerful, politically connected individual who ignored our initial summons. Finally, I initiated a show cause notice with the provision to attach his accounts. This set up a chain of events where I received phone calls from ministries and senior government officials to deter me, as it would have jeopardized the World Cup. I humbly submitted that I couldn’t back down unless I received a directive from the Board in these circumstances. The Board arranged for a directive, and as I prepared to withdraw, there was a Parliament query on the matter the very next day, questioning the Board’s authority. On the contrary, the Board had to withdraw their directive! This gave me the confidence to persevere, and I went on to collect the taxes from the powerful and influential who controlled the game. However, the matter went to the High Court and then to the Supreme Court, as the case lingered on for the next 40 years. Coincidentally, the Supreme Court upheld all my actions one day before I retired! My advice to the younger generation is to remain sincere and steadfast in the face of undue pressure. If you know your facts, you will be unstoppable.

Mr. Prasana Kumar Dash

I grew up in a remote village in Odisha, where there was no electricity till I turned 16. I have been deeply influenced by my mother, who showed her faith in me from my early days. I was exposed to the role of civil servants in college, which gave shape to my professional journey. Mr P Ramamurthy was my teacher at the National Academy of Direct Taxes, he deeply influenced me with his calm demeanour and self-effacing nature.

The greatest lesson I learned was to ask myself what my next goal is after reaching every milestone. I believe that one can stop asking this question after one has reached a place of giving back to society without any expectation of reward or recognition. When I was a young officer posted in Kolkata, I witnessed a small boy of 6-7 years fighting with a dog for his food in a dump yard. I reached out to him and tried to help him out of his situation. This incident spurred me to focus my energies on social causes. I set up a public library in a village in Odisha 30 years ago, as I felt that education was a powerful way to combat poverty. During COVID-19, a lot of artisans lost their livelihoods and turned to daily labour despite being skilled artisans. My goal is to bring them back to these dying forms of art by connecting them to the right platforms and helping them monetize their skills.

I went through four phases of emotions after retirement – initial euphoria, followed by restlessness and a feeling of redundancy. After a long tenure as a senior government servant, it took a bit of time and an identity shift to restart my second innings as a common man. In my third phase, I created a long list of things I wanted to accomplish in all different directions. After some hit and trial, I finally identified a couple of causes I felt strongly about and focused my energies on them in the fourth and final phase.

My message to the Wisdom Generation is to stay creative and positive. That is how I remain connected to God and put my best foot forward every day.”

Prasana Kumar Dash

Interview and photograph credit: Saonli Sen Choudhury from WisdomCircle

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