Pursue sincerely

Pursue sincerely

There is hope in the success of, or at least some progress in, the efforts to bring back money stashed away in foreign banks by Indian citizens, with reports that the Swiss government has prepared a list of Indians who hold accounts in banks in that country and is ready to share it with the Indian government.

This marks a major change in the attitude of the Swiss government which had until now been very protective about the right of the banks to keep information about their customers strictly confidential.

 The report has come when the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team on black money has started its work. The information received from the Swiss authorities will help the government and the SIT in making investigations and taking possible action, though it should not be assumed that all accounts in Swiss banks are illegal and all money held in them is black money.

While these are good signs, a proposal made by an industry body on how the black money problem may be handled should be strongly opposed. The Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) has proposed that the government should offer an amnesty scheme which will involve repatriation of the money held abroad and payment of tax, on a special rate, on it in return for freedom from prosecution and any legal consequences of tax evasion.

 This is highly unethical and would make law-abiding tax-payers look foolish. It would amount to legitimising an illegality with retrospective effect, and call into question the ability of the enforcement bodies to deal with violations of the law.

It will also encourage potential offenders to commit illegalities with the expectation that they would be able to get away in future with some payment to the government. Such a payment is actually a bribe to the state and the law should not recognise and honour it.

It should also be noted that an amnesty scheme announced about two decades ago was not effective and invited much criticism.

It might even be likely that the proposal has been made because of a feeling that the present efforts to deal legally with the black money problem might show results. It is known that many members of the business community may be holding illegal foreign bank accounts.

 The government should pursue its efforts sincerely and make violators of the law face the consequences of their actions, rather than give them an opportunity to whitewash their sins.