Amnesty for black money?
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee dropped hints on Tuesday that the government was not averse to granting amnesty to tax offenders who would agree to pay up.
He said, "I have appointed a group to make recommendations to me."
But he said such a move could attract both bouquets and brickbats for the government.
Mukherjee's remarks, barely a month before the presentation of the Union Budget for 2011-12, rekindled the debate whether the government was planning a fresh immunity scheme, although Central Board of Direct Taxes chairman Sudhir Chandra said, "Right now there is nothing."
The last amnesty offer - the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme - was introduced in the 1997-98 budget by then finance minister P Chidambaram.
Under attack from all quarters - including the Supreme Court - for alleged inaction over funds stashed away in secret foreign bank accounts, he said he had outlined an array of measures, including amended tax treaties with 74 countries to tackle the situation.
Last week, the Supreme Court said it was not just limited to tax evasion, but a "mind-boggling crime", amounting to "theft" and "plunder" of national wealth having security ramifications.
Addressing Tuesday's conference, called at the behest of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mukherjee refused to divulge the names of those who had money in overseas accounts.
"No information can be made available unless there is a legal framework."
On the BJP task force's $500 billion (about Rs 22.5 lakh crore) to $1.4 trillion (about Rs 63 lakh crore) and the Washington-based research group, Global Financial Integrity's $462 billion (about Rs 20,79, 000 crore) estimates of the quantum of black money, he said there was no clear picture yet.
A multi-disciplinary committee - involving the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, National Institute of Financial Management and the National Council for Applied Economic Research - has been formed to come up with a credible estimate.
Mukherjee said, "As and when the economy is developing, new ways of tax evasion are also developing. We have to keep in mind, after all those tax planners are not less intelligent than the tax collectors. We are also improving our skills."