The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the government to submit to it the names of all foreign bank account holders by Wednesday, saying it need not provide a “protective umbrella” to such persons.
Sternly rejecting the Centre’s argument that revealing the identity of legal account holders would amount to breach of privacy, a special bench headed by Chief Justice of India HL Dattu said, “Don’t give us your list... but the names given to you by France and Germany. If it breaches confidentiality, let it be.”
The court also turned down the government’s request that it modify its order seeking the names of all such account holders. The Centre had contended that the names should be revealed only after investigations proved the accounts indeed held black money and led to prosecution against tax evaders."Why are you taking the trouble to investigate? We have taken the responsibility to bring back the (black) money and we will decide the future course (of action)," the CJI said when attorney general Mukul Rohatgi argued that a modification was imperative as the court order was acting as a hindrance in signing future tax treaties.
The top law officer, who denied the government was shielding anybody, offered to give the names to the court-appointed special investigating team (SIT) after completion of the probe.
But the court retorted, “It (probe) will never happen during our time. You don’t verify. Just pass (on) the information to us. We will ask the SIT or income tax department or probably the CBI to investigate… Let SIT declare the accounts don’t have a tinge of black money. If the money is hard-earned, nobody will insist it be brought back.”
Bowing to the court’s direction, Rohatgi later told HT, “There are over 600 names in the list — we will give the entire list in sealed cover to the court. I’m sure the court will take appropriate steps to maintain their confidentiality.”
“The government has absolutely no difficulty in giving it (the list) to the court, and the government shall place the list before the court because the government has already given it to the court-constituted SIT,” finance minister Arun Jaitley also told the media.
“The government is keen that by whatever procedure in accordance with law, we must get to the root of the matter and the truth about these names as also these accounts must come out.”
The court’s direction came a day after the Centre filed an affidavit giving the names of seven individuals and a mining company who have allegedly stashed black money abroad and are facing prosecution for tax evasion under the Income Tax Act.
The court is hearing a public interest petition filed by former law minister Ram Jethmalani in 2009 seeking a direction to the Centre to bring back black money stashed by Indians abroad. Jethmalani had accused the government of attempting to shield powerful politicians and businessmen.
Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal has also filed an application requesting the court to hear him in the matter. Accusing the BJP of protecting such people, he also tweeted, “If BJP discloses all black money holders’ names, then who will give them money to fight elections in some states and buy MLAs in others?”
The Congress, on its part, said the court order had exposed the Centre’s “lame excuses” on disclosure of names and vindicated its stand that there should not be partial and selective leaks. “During the Lok Sabha election campaign, BJP leaders were declaring from the rooftops that black money stashed abroad would be brought back within 100 days. But when it came to declaring the names, they just released three,” general secretary Ajay Maken said.
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