The recall of high-value currency won’t curb illegal incomes unless the government enforces a nationwide ban on drinking and cracks down on properties registered in fake names as both of these practices thrive on black money, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said on Saturday.
Speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, the Bihar leader also said his support for the government’s move to scrap Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes was driven by his anti-corruption stand – not politics.
“The government said the move will help tackle black money and counterfeit currency. That is why I supported it. But it must be accompanied by an attack on “benami” property and national prohibition as there is a lot of illicit money in the liquor trade,” Kumar said.
With his vocal support for the Centre’s move, Kumar has stood out among the Opposition that has gone hammer-and-tongs at the government’s demonetisation move, which is said to have hurt the poor and farmers.
Kumar – who teamed up with arch-rival Lalu Prasad last year to trounce the NDA in the Bihar polls – triggered speculation that he was getting cosy with the BJP after his vocal support for demonetisation.
But on Saturday, the Janata Dal (United) leader laughed off any such suggestions.
“Whenever I see anti-corruption measures, I support it without thinking twice. I am an Indian first, party comes later.”
He also cautioned the Opposition – especially West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee – on the perils of “aggression”.
Banerjee – the Trinamool Congress chief – has emerged as the face of the Opposition protest against demonetisation, hitting the streets against the move and holding rallies in a number of cities ranging from Delhi to Lucknow. At a rally in Patna recently, she had referred to “betrayers” – a reference, many said, to Kumar.
But the Bihar chief minister refused to be drawn into a war-of-words. “All I will say is too much aggression can spoil the perception of people,” he said.
Prohibition of alcohol has been a pet initiative of Kumar, who promised a ban on alcohol during his state poll campaign last year. His move to ban liquor has won accolades from women’s groups but has outraged many, who say prohibition attacks their livelihoods and stringent penal measures for even possessing alcohol are unconstitutional.
Kumar has also spoken out repeatedly in the past against benami properties. The Centre brought in stringent measures recently to deal with people parking their unaccounted-for wealth in real estate in the names of their drivers, maids or through shell companies.
Under the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, a transaction is named ‘benami’ if property is held by one person, but has been provided or paid for by another person. People caught with benami properties could end up with up to seven years in jail and pay a fine of up to0 n10% of the market value of the property.