A decision by P Chidambaram in his last days as finance minister has annoyed the revenue department. Before leaving, he asked the Central Board of Excise & Customs and the Central Board of Direct Taxes to return all Officers on Special Duty (OSDs) to their regular jobs.

There are 35-40 OSDs in various functions of the two boards. With a new government to come shortly and the Budget expected in late June or early July, the boards are worried. They are now waiting for the next minister to review the decision.

The decision to return the officers to their regular posts was apparently taken by Chidambaram as it was affecting work in the departments they came from. The officers had come from field formations.

“They were all posted somewhere else and those posts are now vacant. When the person comes here without a regular post, he has no accountability if something goes wrong. That’s why the minister gave those directions,” said a senior ministry official, justifying Chidambaram’s move.

Others disagree. The OSDs are posted in various functions such as the office of board chairman, task force on Goods & Services Tax or Direct Taxes Code. “Many times, vacancies linger on and there are only two ways to get the manpower. Either you get more strength allocated to you or temporarily divert people from field to the board level. The former takes a lot of time. That’s why OSDs are appointed to share the work burden,” said an official with the boards.

Officials also questioned the rationale behind taking the decision just now, as OSDs have been appointed in North Block for several years to help the “manpower-starved” revenue boards.

The decision reportedly came after a review meeting by Chidambaram this month found several positions in the field vacant because officers preferred to be posted as OSDs, as it gave them more power. Also, many officers were found to be missing without leave.

The new minister will have to decide whether to go with this decision or see merit in the boards’ argument.