It appears to be an idea fraught with uncertainties. As part of its campaign against black money, the central income tax department has created a special e-mail address where people can furnish information about those trying to convert black money into white. Reiterating the Union government’s stance that merely depositing money in banks doesn’t mean it becomes ‘white’ unless tax has been paid on it, revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia said information received on this e-mail ID would be monitored by a cell of the I-T department and acted upon immediately. The taxman will act on the tip-off with alacrity, the government promises.
The Centre cannot seriously expect thousands of messages landing in its in-box overnight with reports of black money transactions. Also, expecting the common man to turn whistle-blower against his acquaintances, colleagues or neighbours can set an unhealthy precedent. It might not be as drastic as George Orwell’s infamous Big Brother with listening devices and cameras in a totalitarian society in his iconic novel 1984, but the decision reeks of post WW II era when neighbour turns on neighbour; old friends become deadly enemies.
Last year, after launching an anti-graft helpline, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had urged people to record videos of officials who were asking them for a bribe and send them to the state government. “Now every citizen is an inspector. If anyone now demands a bribe, do not say no. Record the conversation. We will send them to jail,” the chief minister had famously announced. But the problem with every citizen turning black money inspector against tax evaders is that people may use the device to settle personal scores. Even in the scenario that the scheme is a success, does the implementing infrastructure, already crumbling owing to black money raids and the human costs of people standing in queues outside ATMs, have the energy and resources to check the veracity of the whistleblowers’ claims? In its stated desire to target those with black money, the Centre seems to have not thought this scheme through. These are the times of the empty hand for thousands standing in ATM queues. The charge of the in-box vigilantes may appear imminent to the over-zealous taxman preaching the merits of demonetisation. But, it may sound a jarring note for those at the receiving end of this whistle-blowing. Let’s catch the real tax evaders and ensure that the innocent don’t reach the point of no-return.