M Sudamo Lal has served as Commissioner in Karachi and Lahore, and later in Islamabad where he became the Chief Commissioner, Director General and Member. At present he is the Director General of Mauritius Revenue Authority, and is recognized as someone who has totally revamped and enhanced the entire taxation system in Mauritius
M Sudamo Lal has done his graduation from Tande Jam Agricultural College in Hyderabad and post graduation from Sindh University. Then he cleared the CSS examination which is equivalent to IAS examination in India. He was the first Hindu to clear that examination. Thereafter, he was selected in the Income Tax group. He was appointed as the Assistant Commissioner initially and then became the Deputy Commissioner, then Director General and then the Member. He was the Member for the Tax Policy which also oversees customs. He was also the Chief of Direct Taxes. In Pakistan he has served as Commissioner in Karachi and Lahore, then in Islamabad when he became the Chief Commissioner, Director General and Member.
Please tell us which part of Sindh do your forefathers belong?
I was born in 1945 in Khaayi village, district Sukkur, which has now been merged with Shikarpur district. By the time I grew up, Pakistan was already a reality and many Sindhis from our village had migrated to India and the few who stayed back did so due to one compulsion or other. When I grew up, I observed that at school as well as in the town, the basic Sindhi Hindu culture still prevailed. I was too young at the time of the mass migration or exodus of Hindus during partition. Muslims coming from India were eyeing their lands and properties. Although no major incident as such, took place in our area, in 1945 a number of lootings did occur in our village.
Do you remember the year in which riots broke out in Sindh?
The first riot to break out in Sindh was in Sukkur which came to be known as the Masjid-Manzilgah issue. It erupted in the area across Sadhu-Bela where a mosque existed and the river Sindhu flowed between the mosque and Sadhu-Bela. Those were politically motivated riots. Hindu and Muslim Sindhis actually had no hand in. During the same time Bhagat Kanwar Ram was also assassinated at Ruk station. Then in the smaller villages, lootings commenced which were again politically motivated.
In which year did Motilal Nehru announce these land reforms?
These were announced around 1935-1940. I don’t remember the exact year. This prompted the feudal lords to join the Muslim League specially in U.P. although they didn’t do so in Punjab. The rich Punjabi Muslim landlords had their own Unionist Party. This Unionist Party and the Sikhs in Punjab had their own association. Till as late as 1946 Muslim League didn’t have a majority in the Punjab Assembly.
So can we conclude that the main reason for partition was the Muslim League?
Yes, it can be said so. The Muslim League was formed in 1906. From 1906 upto 1940, Muslim League didn’t have much power. Even during the 1940 elections, Muslim League lost by a considerable margin. But they won the 1946 elections and that too because of the Congress leadership. It was decided by the Congress and the Muslim League that the country would be divided into 3 parts A, B and C. It was decided that India would not be partitioned but be divided into three parts where A would be the main central India, B would be Pakistan and C would be Bengal. B and C would have their representation and their own assemblies, just like, at present we have the state governments. But somehow the Congress leadership, specially Nehru gave the feeling that after the first elections A, B and C will be dissolved, combine into one, and this prompted the Muslims to join the Muslim League. Hence in the 1946 elections the Muslim League won in Sindh, Punjab, the North West Frontier Province and Bengal and that paved the way for the formation of Pakistan. In history you don’t have if’s – if it had been like this the outcome would have been this and so on. But definitely uptill 1946 it was mostly a federal structure where the provinces had powers. They could have assured the Muslims that they would retain their powers.
Now let me get back to knowning about you, when did you come to Mauritius?
I was a Member of Income-Tax and Tax Policy in Pakistan. In those days it was decided to establish the Mauritius Revenue Authority which was a major change in the management exercise. They wanted to merge all the departments and create an autonomous unit which would have its own recruitment and remuneration policies. It would have its own organizational structure with less interference from the government. They wanted to merge the departments for better efficiency. So they invited applications from all over the world – Brussels, Paris, United States, etc. Even from India many had applied. I was shortlisted and ultimately I was selected as the Director General that is the Chief Executive of the Mauritius Revenue Authority.
What is the main role of MRA?
MRA stands for Mauritius Revenue Authority. It is an Authority constituted by an act of Parliament to manage the taxation system of the country. When we are talking about the taxation system, it is the customs, excise, income-tax, VAT – which is called Sales-Tax here, the passenger levy collected by civil aviation etc. So all these domestic and foreign taxes are managed and administered by the authority and there are no separate departments for them. I administer that authority. I came in 2005 and in 2006 the authority started functioning. I am the first employee of the Mauritius Revenue Authority. Upto 2005 the total revenue of this country was 31 billion rupees. Now this year we have collected 58 billion rupees. In the meanwhile, the maximum tax rate which was 30% has been reduced to 15% and the maximum corporate tax rate which was 25% has been reduced to 15%. So by reducing the rates to half we have doubled the collection by simplifying and integrating the processes. Now it is not possible for an individual to show something else in income-tax, a different turnover in VAT, while an altogether different thing in imports. Moreover all the employees who belong to MRA are not government employees. Of course it is a public sector organization, but the promotion, transfers etc. of the employees depend on merit and not on seniority. This is considered to be one of the most successful experiments in Mauritius. Within the African countries we are considered to be the model and IMF, World Bank, European Union they look upon us to guide them and they also come and visit us. I was the President for three years of the Common Wealth Association of Tax Administrations which includes 48 countries. I retired last month. Presently I am the Vice-Chairman of the World Customs Organization representing Mauritius. Mauritius, infact is considered to have a very simple modern tax organization, thanks to MRA.
Have you ever visited India?
I had visited India in 2004. There was a World Bank Seminar in Delhi, I had come as a Keynote Speaker, representing Pakistan. I intentionally avoided coming to India before that because you have to seek permissions and clearances which is a cumbersome procedure. Its not that the other government officials are not coming, but you have to complete all the procedures. I was totally in a different set up. I was not a doctor or an engineer so I tried to avoid travelling to India. Unnecessarily, I didn’t want them to open a file, although they may have a file. Thereafter, I have visited India last year as the Director General of MRA. They had organized a conference and a workshop which was hosted by Mr Pranab Mukherjee. My sister, nieces and nephews stay in India. My wife’s almost entire family is in India. My wife goes every year to India and even from Pakistan she used to visit every year, while I have only been twice to India.
You must have many a times read in the newspapers that after migrating to India, Sindhis faced many hardships, stayed as refugees, do any of your relatives mention about those tough times in India?
Yes. As mentioned earlier the difference between the refugees in Pakistan and the refugees in India was that the refugees who came to Pakistan also brought governance with themselves. They had to just mention that I am an engineer and accordingly he would be awarded the job of an engineer, while our poor Sindhis were all sent to camps like Ulhasnagar. I am not talking about 1947 or 1956 but talking about 1984 and 1990, till date they don’t get proper visas and facilities. They have to first go to Ulhasnagar. For 7-8 years they have to struggle a lot and even after that there is so much competition that it is quite difficult to earn a decent income. Both my brothers-in-law first went to Ulhasnagar after migration. Even my sister and her husband (Behranis) and their cousin Gope Behrani went to Ulhasnagar and those poor guys are still staying in the campus.