No full disclosure, Centre tells SC; FM says no hitch

New Delhi: Is the NDA government talking in two voices over the question of getting back the black money allegedly stashed abroad?

In the first development on Friday, Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told the Supreme Court that in view of the Double taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) signed with many countries it is not possible to disclose all the details about the black money stashed abroad as these countries have objected to the information being made public.

In an application running into 800 pages with annexures filed in the court of chief justice H L Dattu, the government toed the line that had been followed by the previous UPA government on this issue.

However, after the Congress launched a scathing attack on the NDA government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley made the second seemingly contradictory observation. “We have no difficulty in making the names public,” he told reporters, even as he admitted to the constraints imposed by the Double taxation Avoidance Agreement signed by the previous Congress government with Germany in 1995.

The situation as it emerged in the apex court certainly did not amuse senior counsel Ram Jethamalani, who is the petitioner in the case. Opposing the central government’s application, the maverick lawyer maintained that the government was making the argument that should actually come from the culprits.

Getting back the black money stashed abroad was a key campaign issue for the BJP, and the Congress today cited four tweets by the then prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi slamming the UPA government for lack of political will on this issue and promising the return of cash within 100 days of forming the government. Modi also used to appreciate Yoga guru Ramdev for his campaign on this issue and the saffron robed baba would particularly target Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

After the BJP government subscribed to the UPA approach in the court, senior lawyers Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Salman Khurshid cried foul. “This is not only a hiatus between the words and deeds of the BJP, but sheer hypocrisy and dishonesty with the public of India. Modi government’s functioning is defined in the hiatus between speech and reality and action and words. One wonders whether his black money rhetoric was meant for pre-election audience,” said Singhvi at an AICC briefing.

Referring to social activist Anna Hazare, former IPS officer Kiran Bedi, and Baba Ramdev who had taken to the streets on this issue, Singhvi said: ‘‘They should immediately start an indefinite fast before the Prime Minister’s residence. If not, we have the right to ask why the inaction of one government is different from the inaction of another government.”

Khurshid maintained the UPA government and its then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had made precisely the same argument that had been presented by the NDA in the court and that time the BJP had disrupted Parliament and raised a ruckus. ‘‘Now it should at least apologise for misleading the public,” he said.

Jaitley, however, stuck to the stand that considerable progress has been made in this matter and the Swiss authorities too have agreed to cooperate. “A breakthrough was reached that in cases where there is independent investigation in India and evidence is collected in India, those details in relation to those accounts will be provided even if those accounts are on the HSBC list. So that absolute prohibition which the Swiss have imposed no longer exists,” he said.

‘‘One wonders whether his (Modi’s) black money rhetoric was meant for pre-election audience” — Abhishek Manu Singhvi at AICC briefing

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