On the back foot over black money, the UPA has turned to its chief trouble-shooter Pranab Mukherjee to explain the government’s plan for retrieving billions of dollars stashed in Swiss banks and other European tax havens.
“The government has nothing to hide. Let us understand the issue. No information can be made available unless there is a legal framework,” said Pranab Mukherjee.
The government has names of Indian account holders in Liechtenstein’s LGT Bank and information given by German banks, but the Finance Minister said the government cannot reveal the names right now because of the secrecy clause.
“One of the conditions is the secrecy. We have given names to Supreme Court in sealed cover,” Pranab said.
According to conservative estimates, India has lost 462 billion dollars since Independence.
The government says these are just estimates and that it has formed a committee of experts to give report on the volume of black money.
But the Opposition is far from satisfied.
“Mr Pranab Mukherjee’s comment is delightfully vague and conspicuously evasive,” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
“USA and certain other European countries have been able to get this information from the Swiss authorities about their nationals holding accounts in Swiss banks. Why cannot India do the same?” CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said.
Even as the Finance Minister tried to clear the air on the black money issue, in Davos, corporate leaders joined in the chorus saying the government needs to do much more to curb the menace.
“To the extent they cannot get the information without filing proper cases in India, I agree with the government. But I don’t know why they are not following these case?” said Rahul Bajaj, Chairman, Bajaj Group.
“One of the big reasons why the black money policy happened was because the taxation levels in India were very high. So the incentives for people not to pay their taxes became much higher,” said Jamshy Godrej, Chairman, Godrej and Boyce.
Explaining the government’s position of retrieving black money was always going to be a difficult task. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee might have explained a five-pronged strategy to curb the generation of black money. But the question still remains about whether the government will be able to ever retrieve the black money that is kept in foreign banks.