Although the BJP may have replaced Cong at the Centre, not much seems to have changed in position on bringing offshore black money back to India

New Delhi : Over three years ago, the Supreme Court had described as “disingenuous” the then UPA government’s argument, now being parroted by the Narendra Modi government, that the “confidentiality” clause in the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) between India and Germany came in the way of disclosing names of those who had parked their black money in Liechtenstein’s LGT Bank.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley repeated the line on Oct 17 that the “confidentiality” clause in the DTAA signed by the Congress-led central government in 1995 came in the way of making public the names of account holders revealed by the German authorities.

This is what the Supreme Court had said in July 4, 2011: “It is disingenuous to repeatedly claim that it is unable reveal the documents and names on the ground that the same is proscribed by the agreement.”

“We have perused the agreement with Germany. We are convinced that the agreement, by itself, does not proscribe the disclosure of the relevant documents and details of the same, including the names of various bank account holders in Liechtenstein,” it had said.

It did not matter, the court said, that Germany may have asked India to treat information shared as being subject to the confidentiality and secrecy clause of the DTAA. “It is for the Union of India and the courts, in appropriate proceedings, to determine whether such information concerns matters that are covered by the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement or not,” the court had maintained.

Three years down the line not much seems to have changed on the ground, though the BJP may have replaced UPA in power in New Delhi with a whopping majority. The union government’s position remains as “disingenuous” as pointed out by the apex court.

Jaitley said that the government would make public the names of account holders after charge-sheets were filed after investigation by the tax authorities – a UPA stand that the BJP has repeatedly mocked both within and outside parliament.

The party had declared in 2011, through then spokesman and present Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, that it would declare all black money stashed abroad in tax havens as “national assets” and enact a law to deal with the situation.

Former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash Kashyap, who, along with noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani, had sought court intervention to retrieve the illegal money in bank accounts abroad, were not shy of expressing their disillusionment with the government’s stand.

“Why are they citing the confidentiality clause now? Were they not aware of it when they were promising during electioneering that they would bring back the money stashed away in tax havens in such and such time,” Kashyap asked while speaking to IANS.

Surely, Jaitley, who had held important portfolios in the previous NDA regime under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, could not be unaware of the DTAA’s confidentiality provisions.

“More politics than law is now in play in the entire issue. If there is a political will to get black money from abroad then it should not be difficult,” Kashyap maintained.

“They (possibly) find some difficulties, probably these difficulties are not legal.”

If the government feels impeded by the DTAA’s confidentiality provision, it can always ask those it suspects of holding such accounts to file an affidavit stating if they or their immediate kin had accounts in a foreign bank before they travel abroad, Kashyap suggested.

Parmod Kumar

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