Signalling his government’s resolve to bring back the country’s black money stashed abroad, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first decision in the maiden meeting of his cabinet Tuesday was to form a high-profile Special Investigation Team (SIT) to unearth illicit money.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ravi Shankar Prasad takes the oath of office during a swearing-in ceremony for new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his council of ministers in New Delhi.
The SIT will be headed by former Supreme Court judge MB Shah and will include the highest-level officials from financial and economic departments as well as law enforcement agencies. “This indicates the commitment of the new government to pursue the issue of black money in right earnest,” said newly sworn-in law and telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
In 2012, CBI director Amar Pratap Singh had said than an estimated $500 billion (Rs 29.5 lakh crore) of illegal money belonging to Indians is stashed in foreign tax havens. The recently-deposed UPA government — after much hesitation — had on April 29 disclosed the names and documents of 26 Indians who allegedly have illicit money stashed abroad.
The decision comes just a day before the Supreme Court’s deadline to form the SIT was set to expire. Taking a dig at the UPA for “earlier delays”, Prasad said: “Tomorrow is the last date (for setting up of SIT), therefore the very first agenda in accordance with its (NDA’s) policy commitment was to have this very high-profile SIT”.
The SIT will carry on investigation, initiate proceedings and prosecution in cases of Hasan Ali and other matters involving unaccounted money. It will also have jurisdiction in cases where investigations are already on or pending. It can also revisit cases where the probe has been completed. The SIT will report to the court on the status of the probe regularly.
In the course of its high-decibel election campaign, the BJP had repeatedly vowed to fight corruption and black money, with Modi himself referring to the issue in his speeches.
Another cabinet meeting will be held Wednesday to decide the parliamentary agenda.