The Centre on Friday told the Supreme Court (SC) that it could not disclose the names of those who have deposited money in banks abroad as it this would jeopardise tax agreements with nations providing those names to India.
This echoes the line taken by the previous UPA government, which the BJP had slammed and made into an election issue earlier this year while promising to bring black money back if elected to power.
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Appearing before a bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said that all amounts deposited in foreign banks by Indian citizens cannot be termed black money and that it is not a crime to open such accounts.
Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, petitioner in the case before the SC, accused the government of protecting those who had stashed black money abroad and urged the court not to entertain the application.
But observers said that Jethmalani, who was expelled from the BJP, was politicising the matter to settle scores, and even his own advocate-on-record Raian Karanjawala decided to quit the case.
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“We have indicated that we will be giving a no-objection certificate in the matter (to Jethmalani to engage some other advocate-on-record) and are withdrawing from the case,” Karanjawala said. All cases in the SC have to be filed through advocates-on-record.
The SC had in May given the Centre an ultimatum to constitute a Special Investigation Team to probe black money cases. It also ordered the Centre to disclose the identity of 26 persons who had bank accounts in the tax haven Liechtenstein.
On Friday, the government told the court that if it revealed the names as the SC had directed, foreign countries may not give India further information and it would also be difficult to get into double taxation avoidance agreements (DTAA) with other nations due to confidentiality considerations.
The Centre’s stand drew a strong response from the Congress. “This is not only a hiatus between the words and deeds of BJP but sheer hypocrisy and dishonesty with the public of India,” said Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley rejected any notion that the BJP was reluctant to make the names public.
“We have no difficulty in making names public. But they can be made public only in accordance with due process of law,” he said. “And the due process of law has been constrained by DTAA which was entered into between India and Germany when the Congress Party was in power on June 19, 1995,” he told reporters.
The Centre also wants the SC to make it clear that its direction would not prohibit the Centre from signing treaties which include a provision on maintaining confidentiality. It has even asked for a declaration that the right to privacy is an integral part of the right to life and such information cannot be disclosed unless a wrongdoing is found on the basis of an Income Tax complaint.
The government told the court that its order was coming in the way of India’s India signing a proposed Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) with the US that needed to be signed by December end as failure to do so would lead to serious implications on financial institutions.
The court fixed October 28 to hear the matter.