Mere pretence

Much of what the government told the Supreme Court about its commitment and efforts to bring back black money stashed away in foreign banks is wrong and the rest is pretence.

The court was justifiably unhappy that its three-year-old order on setting up a special team to investigate the creation and outflow of black money and find ways to retrieve it is still stonewalled by the government. It has been telling the court all these years to revise or review its directive, citing some good and bad reasons for it. The good reasons, like the argument that such actions and initiatives which have policy implications lie within the domain of the government and the court should stay away from them, would have been acceptable in a different context. They do not sound genuine after the government has done nothing on the matter even in the last three years. As the court pointed out, it is the refusal of the executive for more than six decades to take any effective action that forced the court to take the initiative.

The government claimed before the court that it already has a system and arrangements to find out and recover black money. This is true only on paper. This system has not brought any money back, though it is known that Indians have kept billions of dollars in Swiss and other foreign banks. Even when the names were known, as in the case of some depositors in a Liechtenstein bank, there was no follow-up action. Investigations in other cases and even some prosecutions fizzled out. The government brought out a white paper on black money in foreign banks but it was vague and useless. Even after the court’s rejection of the government’s arguments on Wednesday, the finance minister’s reaction is only that the government would write a “strong letter” to the Swiss government to force the banks to share information with India on the illegal hoard in their accounts.

In the light of such callousness and persistent inaction, the government’s expression of concern could only be taken as false and dishonest. The court’s harsh tone and the stinging words in its censure were a sign of its exasperation. It had expressed such sentiments when it ordered the setting up of the SIT also. These would be shared by everyone. No one would be unhappy if the SIT violated the line between the judiciary and the executive, if it succeeds in its task.

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