In India's largely informal cash economy the job of tax collection has always been a struggle. Just 4 per cent of the 1.1 billion population contribute to the public purse and many a government campaign to increase tax receipts has failed.
But the city of Patna, in the country’s poorest state of Bihar, has devised a formula that may just work: public humiliation.
Frustrated with not being able to meet its annual target of revenue collection, city authorities have employed the incomparably colourful services of eunuchs to embarrass habitual defaulters into coughing up.
The castrated men, herma-phrodites and transsexuals, caked in cheap make-up and wearing garish saris, are being paid to stand outside the homes and shops of repeat offenders and loudly sing ditties such as Izzat jatau, sohrat jatau, tax na debe ta gharwa nilaam hotau (Your reputation will be tarnished, fame would be malice, if you do not pay your tax your house would be auctioned).
Accompanied by drummers and policemen, the persuasive eunuchs — conditioned to demanding money through a lifetime of begging — are proving quite adept at their new job. In one day this week their takings topped 400,000 rupees (£4,710), for which they received a 4 per cent cut.
Ram Sagar Singh, 60, a shopkeeper surrounded by a mob chanting “Pay up the tax, pay the tax,” in front of his family and neighbours, immediately promised to cover his dues of 100,000 rupees within a week.