Nagaland was on income tax dept’s radar before ‘cash jet’ landed in Dimapur | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Nagaland was on income tax dept’s radar before ‘cash jet’ landed in Dimapur

A day before the now-infamous cash landing in Nagaland, the income-tax department had cautioned the residents in the northeastern state against helping “outsiders” park black money in their accounts.

black money crackdown Updated: Nov 25, 2016 23:00 IST
Rahul Karmakar
Demonetisation
A chartered flight recently landed at the Dimapur airport from Hisar in Haryana carrying Rs 3.5 crore in cash in the scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.(HT Photo)

A day before the now-infamous cash landing in Nagaland, the income-tax department had cautioned the residents in the northeastern state against helping “outsiders” park black money in their accounts.

A special provision in the Indian Constitution exempts Nagas and other resident tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Manipur from paying income text.

There is also no cap on money that the resident tribes of the sixth schedule areas of the Northeast states can keep in their bank accounts. It has raised fears that the region could be used as a tax haven to deposit unaccounted for cash following the government’s decision to cull high-value banknotes.

The I-T department flagged these concerns in a communiqué issued on November 21. “All tribals of the state of Nagaland not to allow parking of money belonging to non-tribals and other business enterprises in their bank accounts as they shall be doing so at the risk of facing penalties,” it said.

A day later a chartered flight landed at the Dimapur airport from Hisar in Haryana carrying Rs 3.5 crore in cash in the scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.

The cash was handed over to owner, Naga businessman Anato Zhimomi, the son-in-law of former Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio but not before some drama.

The money suddenly disappeared from the airport only to turn up mysteriously a few hours later.

The I-T department had received reports from “various agencies informing of large amounts into the bank accounts of the tribals” despite an advisory issued by the finance department on November 18, sources said.

But I-T officials, who are probing suspicious high-value transactions in the Northeast, said the warning could have come after the Hisar-Dimapur “cash jet” had made a similar trip on November 13.

The Modi government had announced the decision to discontinue the high-value currency on November 8.

Dimapur airport director M Zhimo confirmed the November 13 flight, adding the jet returned to Hisar on November 14. It could not be ascertained who the passengers were or if the flight carried cash.

Governments of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram had earlier alerted banks about the possibility of illegal money being parked in the accounts of tribal people.

Apart from businessmen desperate to get rid of unaccounted for cash, reports have emerged of corrupt government officials looking to park ill-gotten money offering 40-50% commission to tribal account holders.

Seeking co-operation

Cooperative societies, too, have been approached for turning “black money into white”.

“An officer in the social welfare department brought Rs 43 lakh in Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes a day after they were demonetised. We turned down his request for a backdated receipt as advance payment for lifelong supply of milk, ghee, cream and sweets,” said the head of a milk producers’ society in neighbouring Assam’s Morigaon district.

Nagaland and two hill districts of Assam under sixth schedule – Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao – are also reportedly the destination for banned militant outfits such as the United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent, National Democratic Front of Bodoland-Songbijit and National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang.

The Assam police have reports of Rs 9 crore having been brought in by these groups from neigbouring Myanmar for forcing villagers to exchange them.

“Various police stations in the district have alerted us about Rs 7 crore smuggled in from Bangladesh by anti-social and militant groups,” Pradeep Kar, superintendent of police in southern Assam’s Karimganj district, said. Karimganj borders Bangladesh.

The “rush” for parking unaccounted for cash in the Northeast is a throwback to 1978 when Rs 1,000, Rs 5,000 and Rs10,000 notes were discontinued, retired bank officials in the region said.

Nurul Islam Laskar, who was with the SBI’s main branch in Shillong in Meghalaya, recalled being transferred to Jowai 67km away within hours of Prime Minister Morarji Desai announcement of demonetisation. Some of Laskar’s colleagues were sent to Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.

“There were long queues of low-income tribal people waiting to deposit several pieces of high-value cash that most bank employees in the Northeast, including me, had neither seen nor held in our hands,” he told HT.

“But the tribal depositors were all innocent who saw it as social service and asked no questions of non-tribal people from other parts of India who seemed to have parachuted out of nowhere to park their money.”

The Centre is also watching jan dhan accounts that have seen a at least a 50% surge in deposits following the November 8 announcement.

The Jan Dhan Yojana was launched in 2014 to promote financial inclusion of the poor so that each household has at least one account. These are zero-balance accounts.