The Sunday Sentiment
NEEDED: THE ZEAL & SPIRIT TO BRING BACK BLACK MONEY FROM SWISS BANKS
There has, as yet, not been any concrete evidence to show how much money is stashed by Indians in Swiss and other foreign banks abroad. Even the Government of India doesn't — or doesn't wish to — come out with exact figures. According to Wikipedia the total exceeds US$1.4 trillion. The latest reports say that India has slipped to the 70th position in deposits of huge amounts of illicit wealth by Indians in Swiss banks. The latest official data released by Switzerland's central bank shows that the money they owed to Indian clients at the end of last year was 1.42 billion Swiss francs (about Rs. 9,000 crore). (http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/money-in-swiss-banks-india-slips-to-70th-position-uk-on-top-383065)
Whatever their size and dimension these remain illegal funds earned, according to reports, through illegal means — drug trade, smuggling and other nefarious activities. Such money is also falling into the hands of terrorists to destabilize the country. Therefore, it is all the more necessary that it should be brought back home to extinguish the fires of want and hunger.
Where there is a will, there is a way. That is an old saying, and true also. And it is here our government has been found wanting. Despite its bold and brave claims, so far nothing concrete has been done. This has sent the tongues wagging that the government has a vested interest in letting this money remain in foreign banks because some of the direct beneficiaries of this government laxity have government and ruling party connections.
In recent years, countries like the US, Germany and France have managed to extract the information they wanted from Swiss banks after threatening to impose stiff penalties on them. On the other hand, the Indian government has been pleading helplessness on this very score. Now that Switzerland is committed to comply with international norms on sharing of information to protect each country’s tax laws, India should be able to get its hands on the hidden wealth of Indians.( http://newindianexpress.com/editorials/Bring-home-black-money-stashed-in-Swiss-banks/2013/10/17/article1839092.ece) As yet, so far, people do not know what has the present government done in this direction. Some prominent names have surfaced in recent years, but government continues to maintain a stoic silence. Laxity and prevarication is only providing fuel to the rumour mills.
There is no gainsaying the fact that this crime of swindling of huge amounts of money to foreign countries could not have been possible without the overt or covert connivance of those in power. They not only failed to nab and nail the culprits through diplomatic channels, but also to enact a stringent law to punish such violations. So far they have only paid a lip service to this crime against the nation.
All attempts to track these illegal funds have only proved futile as these were half-hearted, insincere, lacked sense of purpose and a strong will. All that the government seems to be wanting was to appear to look to the people that it was doing something, while actually it was not. This apprehension is strengthened by the fact that the Indian government only attempted to seek information from the Swiss banks about the money and persons of Indian origin involved in a perfunctory manner and in return it only received retort from the Swiss Bankers' Association which said:. "India can't simply throw its telephone book at Switzerland", curtly said one of its officials, "and ask if any of these people have a bank account here". Obviously, the Indian government had not done its home work.
It is as much puerile to think that government is in the know of everything about Swiss Bank accounts as much it is that it is totally ignorant. The problem is that it does not want to offend those about whom it has information. That is why it had all along been claiming that it could not disclose to the public the names which are known to it to "protect their honour". This only shows how much clout the guilty enjoy in the corridors of power. These 'honourable' people are guilty of having violated the laws of the land and are liable for punishment for their 'criminal' acts and not protection of their honour at the hands of the government.
The half-hearted approach of the government got manifest last year when BJP demanded that all members of both houses of Parliament, including ministers, declare to the respective Presiding Officers that they do not have an account in a Swiss (foreign) bank. While BJP MPs filed their individual declarations, Congress failed to reciprocate. Instead it was stated that no member of Parliament belonging to the Congress had any such account. But that does not satisfy the requirements of law because an individual is accountable only if he/she makes such a declaration individually.
Will & zeal needed
If a government has the zeal and the will it can do numerous things to achieve its objective. One of the steps — the right one expected to give out sure results — could be to enact a law requiring every citizen of the country, including the NRIs who have been granted dual citizenship, to append a declaration on oath with his/her annual income tax return declaring whether he/she has an account (with full details) in a foreign bank. If a citizen is found to have made a false declaration, law should provide for summary termination of his citizenship and the consequential benefits. A similar declaration should be made mandatory for every person wishing to contest an election to a panchayati raj or cooperative institution, municipal body, state legislative assembly, any of the two houses of Parliament, Vice-President and President of India at the time of filing of nomination papers. Individuals when appointed to a public office, including officers in the State and Central government, have to take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of India. Alongside they should be made to swear by such affidavits regarding foreign accounts before taking office. A false declaration should not only render the election void and disqualify him from fighting a future election, the amount in his account should also be confiscated.
Such a declaration should also be made mandatory for a person seeking any facility from the government, like issue of a ration card, arms/driving licence, passport, sale/purchase of land, house or a vehicle.
The Government could also direct persons who have visited Switzerland during the last 10 years to file an affidavit whether they have any account in Switzerland or any other country. If they have, they should be made to provide full details. ***