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Five-pronged strategy to curb black money: Pranab

Special Correspondent

Other countries will not give information accusing Centre of not meeting global commitments, he says

Asserting government has nothing to hide, Pranab says legal framework needed for such disclosures

IT officers have statutory powers to do their job and are not under Finance Ministry's control


"NOTHING TO HIDE": Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee addresses the media on the issue of black money, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Dismissing Opposition criticism, he lists proactive steps taken by the government. Also seen are Adviser to Finance Minister Omita Paul, Revenue Secretary Sunil Mitra and CBDT Chairman Sudhir Chandra.

NEW DELHI: Even in the wake of heightened criticism by the Opposition and the Supreme Court's sharp observations on its “inaction” over the black money issue, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday reiterated the government's stand that information received on black money stashed by Indians in foreign banks and other tax havens cannot be disclosed in the absence of a legal framework.

At a press conference convened here on the directive of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh owing to the “lot of attention” the issue of black money has attracted in the recent past, Mr. Mukherjee detailed the various proactive steps the government has taken — including the formulation of a five-pronged strategy — to combat the menace of illicit funds generated both as a result of tax evasion and corruption.

Rebuts criticism

Alongside, however, the Finance Minister dismissed the Opposition's criticism that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was holding back information fearing that such disclosures could result in its fall.

“The government has nothing to hide. No question of hiding. Let us understand the issue. No information can be made available unless there is a legal framework…No sovereign government is going to share information unless there is a legal framework,” Mr. Mukherjee said and took pains to explain why the government was not in a position to divulge information obtained from some foreign entities on black money stashed abroad.

‘Got to work on facts'

Asserting that the government has to work on the basis of “facts,” Mr. Mukherjee pointed out that Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAAs) and Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs) are the “two instrumentalities” under which information on illicit funds can be obtained from sovereign governments and other “tax haven” jurisdictions.

India, Mr. Mukherjee said, has DTAAs with 79 countries and modifications in such pacts were needed in 74 of them to broaden the scope of article of exchange of information to include exchange of banking information Already, a total of 23 negotiations in line with international standards have been completed for DTAAs and 10 for TIEAs. In 31 cases, DTAA negotiations and in five cases, TIEA negotiations are in progress.

“But the problem is information which we have obtained has come under some conditions of secrecy. Today, if we disclose, tomorrow other countries will not give me the information raising an accusing finger that you do not meet international commitments,” Mr. Mukherjee said while noting “there is a way. As and when the Income Tax Authorities will be in a position to prosecute cases against tax evaders, you will come to know.”

Trying to drive home the level of secrecy that is involved in such matters, Mr. Mukherjee said: “Even I have no intention or authority of knowing the names [of those who have stashed black money abroad]. The Income Tax officers have statutory powers under which they perform their duties and they are outside the purview of the administrative control of the Ministry”.

Five-pronged strategy

Mr. Mukherjee noted that to tackle the menace of illicit funds, the government has adopted a five-pronged strategy. It comprises joining the global crusade against ‘black money'; creating an appropriate legislative framework; setting up institutions for dealing with illicit funds; developing systems for implementation; and imparting skills to the manpower for effective action.

Asked whether the government was likely to come out with an amnesty scheme to bring back such unaccounted funds back home, the Finance Minister said a group has been constituted to look into the matter while pointing out that even as such measures help in getting some amounts, it is viewed as being “unfair” to the honest taxpayer.

‘No reliable estimates'

Mr. Mukherjee said there were no reliable estimates of black money inside and outside the country. While interim recommendations of BJP Task Force 2009 had estimated such funds to be anything between $ 500 billion and $1,400 billion, a recent study by Global Financial Integrity has estimated the current value of illicit money outflow at $ 462 billion, he said.

“All these estimates are based on various unverifiable assumptions and approximations. Government has been seized of the matter and has constituted a multidisciplinary committee to get studies conducted to estimate the quantum of illicit fund generated by Indian citizens,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

Substantial progress

Stressing that the proactive steps by the government to unearth black money have resulted in substantial progress, he said: “We have detected undisclosed income of about Rs 15,000 crore in last 18 months, due to focused search operations by the Income Tax Department”. Alongside, during the same period, the Directorate of International Taxation collected taxes of Rs. 34,601 crore.

“These proactive steps led to additional collection of taxes of Rs. 34,601 crore and detection of additional income of Rs. 48,784 crore on which taxes are being collected. I am confident that the results will be quite satisfactory in the days to come,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

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