LS passes Bill to check benami transactions

LS passes Bill to check benami transactions

LS passes Bill to check benami transactions

Seeking to check black money, Lok Sabha today passed a comprehensive Benami Transactions Amendment Bill, with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assuring that genuine religious trusts will be kept out of the purview of the legislation.

Moving the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Bill 2015 for the consideration and passage, the Minister said the legislation was predominately an anti-black money measure and its purpose is to seize benami property and prosecute those indulging in such activities.

"A lot of people who have unaccounted money buy benami property in the name of fictitious persons ... these transactions have to be discouraged," he said.

On concerns expressed by certain members about religious properties or those owned by deities or religious institutions, Jaitley said the government under this Bill will exempt such bonafide entities.

"There is Section 58 under the law which clearly states that charitable or religious organisation properties, the government has power to exempt those," Jaitley said responding to concerns of some members about the applicability of the amended law on properties in the name of holy books and deities.

"If there is a genuine property which belongs to a church or a mosque or a gurdwara or a temple, section 58 says that the government has the power to exempt it," he said.

The Minister warned that excemption to such entities, cannot be a pretext for tax evasion, adding "if you make any illegal business out of it... if you create a fake religious sect and start keeping benami property, then government won't exempt it, so please don't do that".

Responding to suggestions of members on why the government has not come out with a new law in place of the 1988 Act, the Minister said such a move would have given "immunity to persons who acquired benami properties during the period from 1988 to 2016".

"A new law would have meant giving immunity to everybody from the penal provisions and giving a 28-year immunity would not have been in the larger public interest, particularly if large amounts of unaccounted black money have been used... A new law would have had consequences which would have been detrimental to public interest itself," Jaitley said.

While the 1988 Act has nine sections, the amended law would have 71 sections, the Minister said, adding that under Article 20 of the Constitution, penal provisions cannot be applied retrospectively.
The 1988 Act, which also has provisions for prosecution, has not been operationalised as the rules in this regard have not been framed, he said.

Jaitley said that offences under the amended law would be non-cognisable as the government does not want multiple agencies to get involved and harass people.

Besides bonafide religious trusts, he said there are few exceptions relating to Hindu Undivided Family and trusts owning properties.

While the existing law provides for up to three years of imprisonment or fine or both for carrying out benami transactions, the amended legislation would provide for seven years imprisonment and fine.

The government has accepted the Parliamentary Standing Committee's suggestion to change the words in the Bill from "known sources of income" to "known sources" with a view to further strengthen the provisions.

Explaining the rationale behind having four stages with regard to deciding matters under this law, the Minister said such a system would ensure that "there is no misuse of power" by anyone and the possibility of error is reduced.

Under the new legislation, there is provision for filing an appeal against an order within 45 days, which would also be an inbuilt limitation.

Asserting that the amended law would not be in conflict with the Income Tax Act, Jaitley said the two would be "supplementary to each other".

On whether whistle blowers would get protection under the amended law, Jaitley said there is no need for such a provision since there is a separate law for them.

Responding to demand by some members that benami properties should be vested with state governments, Jaitley said it was a central law and hence the power is with the central government. He, further said states have power to acquire properties under state legislations.

With regard to applicability of the provisions of the new law in exempted areas, he said the Governor would have the power to make exemptions.

The Bill was brought by the government in 2015 and it was referred to Standing Committee. A Bill to amend the 1988 Act was introduced by the previous UPA government in 2011 but it had lapsed when the term of the Lok Sabha ended in 2014.

Participating in the debate, S P Muddahanumegowda (Cong) said the law does not provide any protection to the whistle blower in connection with benami property and is also silent on the incentive to be provided to such persons.

Ladu Kishore Swain (BJD) said it seems that the Bill has been prepared in hurry and violated the principles of cooperative federalism.

Wondering why the government did not bring a new Act instead of so many amendments to the original Act of 1988, Kalyan Banerjee (TMC) said there is no provision of appeal mentioned in the amendment Bill 2015.

Clause 30 creates appellate tribunal to hear appeals, but there is no provision of right to appeal against adjudicating authority in the Bill, Banerjee said.

Ravindra Babu (TDP) said people who make black money are anti-nationals and should be hanged. He said the bill is well intended but it should be integrated with other Acts dealing with hawala and drugs.

"All these should be integrated to deal with black money. Make one comprehensive law," he suggested.

CPI(M) leader Sankar Prasad Dutta said there is need to completely ban benami transactions. "Some loopholes are there in the bill and benami transactions should be stopped in the real sense," he said, adding political leaders are also involved in these transactions.

"So if political leaders are kept away from benami transactions and if it is not used in creating political funds, then only benami transactions can be stopped," he said. 

Konda Vishweshwar Reddy (TRS) said the bill expands the definiton of benami transactions and also increases the penalty. "We need a gamut of reforms to eliminate benami transactions," he added.

Supporting the bill, BJP leader Prahlad Patel said that "it is an important step in the development of the country".

N K Premachandran (RSP) said he supported the bill "but with certain reservations".
Generation of black money needs to be restricted if one wants to stop benami transactions, he added.

Others who participated in the debate included Udit Raj (BJP), Jayprakash Narayan Yadav (RJD), Vinayak Bhaurao Raut (Shiv Sena), Sushmita Dev (Cong), Prem Singh Chandumajra (SAD), Kaushalendra Kumar (JD-U), C M Jayadevan (CPI), C K Sangma (NPP), B N Goud (TRS) and Saugata Roy (Trinamool Congress). 

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