They are India's new tax collectors.

Dancing and singing to the beat of drums, about 20 eunuchs in bright saris began going from shop to shop, asking the owners to pay overdue municipal taxes in Patna, the capital of Bihar, one of India's most impoverished and lawless states.

They were hired by Patna's Municipal Corporation on Wednesday after the city's tax arrears ran into the millions, said Atul Prasad, the municipal administrator.

Revenue officials accompany the eunuchs with tax records to settle the outstanding arrears on the spot.

Indian rulers once castrated boys to create eunuchs to work in their harems. But eunuchs today are generally males with partial genitals or who opt for castration because of strong female feelings.

They often make a living on tips for dancing at weddings and blessing newborn babies, and are believed to be stubborn and not take no for an answer.

The new tax collectors met with considerable success in their first day in the job. They collected 425,000 rupees (US$9,240) from shop owners, said Bharat Sharma, a revenue officer.

"We are confident that their reputation and persuasive skills will come in handy for the municipal authorities to collect taxes from defaulters," Sharma told The Associated Press.

The eunuchs are not given a salary and instead receive 4 percent of the amount they collect from defaulters, Prasad said.

Only 2,000 of Patna's nearly half million residents regularly pay property taxes and water charges, Prasad said. "Tax collection has slipped to 200 million rupees (US$4.34 million) a year from the anticipated 700 million rupees (US$15.2 million)," he said.

The eunuchs will be asked to help collect outstanding taxes from private homes soon, Prasad said.