Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday that there was “no instant solution” to the problem of funds being illegally stashed in foreign banks even as the Supreme Court strongly rebuked the government for not revealing the names of people who do so.
“It is a pure and simple theft of the national money. We are talking about mind-boggling crime. We are not on the niceties of various treaties,” remarked a bench headed by justice B Sudarshan Reddy, while hearing a petition by former law minister Ram Jethmalani to retrieve Indian black money hidden away in foreign banks.
The remark by the bench came when Solicitor general Gopal Subramanium began elaborating on the various steps taken by the government under the Double Taxation Avoidance Act.
The court was also unhappy that the government had filed an affidavit seeking to restrict the information it would divulge to the money deposited by 26 persons in Liechtenstein Bank in Germany (amounting to Rs 43 crore). "This is all the information you have or you have something more?" the bench asked.
Referring to the German bank, Prime Minister Singh also said that information received from the bank could not be made public due to treaty obligations.
"We have got some information and that has been provided to us for use in the collection of due taxes," he told reporters.
The court said that money stashed abroad could have come from terror funds, arms deals or narcotics. “We don’t even know how many zeroes are there in the amount stashed abroad,” it said.
This is the second time in the recent past that Singh has openly commented on an issue pending before the SC. In October 2010, when the apex court asked the government to distribute food grains free of cost to the hungry poor, Singh had said that courts should not interfere in policy matters.
The bench came down heavily on the government for trying to dodge the court on furnishing the details to Jethmalani.
The court did not agree with Subramanium that the scope of the petition was limited to the Leichenstein bank.
“Under public interest, are we precluded from asking any questions? The petition is not confined to one bank and this is the issue about all money stashed in foreign banks. There is no issue of confining the petition to one bank. All we want is that you give all information about the money deposited in the foreign banks by Indians,” it told Subramanium.