The Centre has submitted a list of 627 Indians who have accounts in HSBC bank, Geneva, to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, directing a special investigation team (SIT) to complete the tax probe on suspected black money by March next year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he wants to prosecute tax dodgers and bring money stashed in tax havens back into the country but his opponents claim enough progress has not been made since his landslide election victory earlier this year.
Here's the ten developments since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government took charge at the Centre in May this year:
1. May 27: Modi govt forms SIT
Signalling his government’s resolve to bring back the country’s black money stashed abroad, PM Modi’s first decision in the maiden meeting of his cabinet was to form a high-profile SIT to unearth illicit money.
The SIT is headed by former SC judge MB Shah and includes the highest-level officials from financial and economic departments as well as law enforcement agencies.
The decision came just a day before the apex court’s deadline to form the SIT was set to expire.
2. Oct 17: 'Black money info cannot be disclosed to all'
The Centre on October 17 told the SC that it could not disclose the names of those who have deposited money in banks abroad as it this would jeopardise tax agreements with nations providing those names to India.
This echoes the line taken by the previous United Progressive Alliance government, which the BJP had slammed over alleged inaction on the issue and made it into an election issue earlier this year.
Appearing before a bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu, Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi said that all amounts deposited in foreign banks by Indian citizens cannot be termed black money and that it is not a crime to open such accounts.
However, finance minister Arun Jaitley rejected any notion that the BJP was reluctant to make the names public.
3. Oct 17: FM says Switzerland agrees to provide details of black money
Jaitley said that Switzerland had agreed to share information on Indians’ bank accounts on independent evidence provided in each case, marking a major step in efforts to secure data from the Alpine nation, known for its banking secrecy laws.
Jaitley said Switzerland had agreed to share information related to HSBC and Liechestein lists of account holders, provided there is independent evidence collected by Indian authorities.
As per Swiss National Bank's latest data, the total money held by Indians in Swiss banks stood at over Rs 14,000 crore as on December 2013, up by nearly 42% from a year ago.
4. Oct 27: Govt discloses eight names to SC
Days after it was criticised for backtracking on its election promise to bring back black money stashed abroad, the Modi government named seven persons and a company facing prosecution for keeping illegal wealth in foreign banks.
The much-awaited list did not include names of any politician. Those named in a government affidavit were Pradip Burman of the Dabur group, Rajkot-based bullion trader Pankaj Chimanlal Lodhya and directors of Goa-based mining company Timblo Private Limited — Radha Satish Timblo, Chetan S Timblo, Rohan S Timblo, Anna C Timblo and Mallika R Timblo. Timblo Private Limited, a firm identified by Association for Democratic Reforms as a donor to both the BJP and the Congress, was also named.
5. Oct 27: Oppn slams BJP for calling affidavit historic
Political reactions were sharp after the government revealed the names of seven persons and a company facing prosecution for keeping illegal wealth in foreign banks.
Sambit Patra, a BJP spokesperson, called disclosure of the names "a historic day in the black money case".
But Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh accused the BJP of "selective revelation" of names and said the process smacked of "blackmail, not black money".
AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal said the revelations of black money account holders should not be selective. "There should not be selective revelation of names. The big fish are being let off," he told the media.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi cited four tweets by Modi before the Lok Sabha elections in which he had slammed the previous Manmohan Singh government for its “lack of commitment” to bring back black money from foreign banks.
6. Oct 28: SC pulls up Centre
The apex court directed the government to submit to it the names of all foreign bank account holders by Oct 29, saying it need not provide a “protective umbrella” to such persons.
The court also turned down the government’s request that it modify its order seeking the names of all such account holders. The Centre had contended that the names should be revealed only after investigations proved the accounts indeed held black money and led to prosecution against tax evaders.
7. Oct 29: Centre gives black money full list to SC
The government submitted a list of 627 Indians holding accounts in HSBC Bank, Geneva, to the court, which directed its SIT to examine them and take appropriate action.
After handing over a sealed envelope, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi said it contained three documents — the government’s correspondence with the French government, the list of names and a status report.
8. Oct 29: No revelation, for now
A special bench of the apex court headed Dattu refused to open the envelope handing over by the Centre, saying it would be done by the SIT chairman and vice-chairman.
“We don’t want to open these papers and embarrass anyone. That has never been our intention,” it said.
Scheduling the next hearing for December 3, it asked the SIT to submit a status report by November 30 after ascertaining who had black money accounts abroad.
9. Oct 29: State of confusion
On Tuesday, the top court directed the government to submit the full list after the latter said it wasn’t possible to make the names of all foreign bank account holders public. Rejecting the Centre’s submission, the CJI said, “If it breaches confidentiality, let it be so.”
But on Wednesday, the court refused to open the sealed envelope which contained the list of foreign account holders.
It was also not clear why the court insisted on getting the list from the government when the latter had submitted it to the court-appointed SIT in June.
The Centre, meanwhile, was allowed by the court to raise its objections against making all the names public before the SIT.
10. Oct 30: What's next
The SC-appointed SIT, looking into the black money cases, on Thursday said it will go after the offenders "big or small" but made it clear that confidentiality about account holders abroad will not be violated.
It also said it was gathering more names other than the over 600 account holders in HSBC bank, Geneva, given by the government to the apex court on Wednesday, for investigation.
"Before us, nobody is big, nobody is small. Everybody is equal. Whoever has looted this country will be caught and will be punished, economically and otherwise also. That we assure. Both of us (SIT chief Justice Shah) are too well known for doing it to discomfort of many people," vice chairman Justice Arijit Pasayat said.
The SIT was asked to complete the probe by next March.
What is black money
Black money arises mainly from incomes not disclosed to the government usually to avoid taxation, and, sometimes, because of its criminal links
Size of India's black economy
In 2011, the government had commissioned a joint study by three think-tanks - NIPFP, NIFM and NCAER - to estimate Indian entities' unaccounted wealth both at home and abroad. The final report has not been submitted.
India ranked fifth largest exporter of illicit money between 2002-2011, with a total of $343.04 billion, and in 2011 it was placed third when $84.93 billion was sent abroad, according to a 2013 report titled 'Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2002-2011'
According to Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a Washington-based think-tank, Indians salted away $462 billion (about Rs. 28 lakh crore in current exchange rates) in overseas tax havens between 1948-2008.
(With inputs from HT and Agencies)