Slew of anti-black money measures unveiled to make him drop fast plan
Four days ahead of Baba Ramdev's threatened hunger strike on June 4 on the issue of black money and corruption, the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) met to discuss the unfolding situation.
Informed sources said the government had decided to respond to the yoga guru's letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, listing the measures the government had taken to tackle the issue of illicit funds, and to impress upon him that there was no need for him to launch an agitation.
Fearing a situation similar to the one that the government had faced in April when social activist Anna Hazare went on hunger fast on the issue of corruption, the CCPA on Monday discussed what course of action it should adopt, and the possible political fallout of the agitation. The role of RSS-affiliated organisations in whipping up public sentiment and fuelling the anti-government agitation on corruption also figured in the deliberations.
Given the beating the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has taken in recent months on the graft issue, it has, over the last week, unrolled a slew of measures in the hope of appeasing Baba Ramdev, who has threatened to go on an indefinite hunger strike at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan unless the authorities take some convincing steps to facilitate the return of black money stashed away in tax havens abroad.
These included a meeting of senior Finance Ministry officials with Baba Ramdev, and the announcements over three successive days, May 28, 29 and 30, of measures by the government, indicative of its seriousness to deal with black money. They include the creation of a committee to advise the government on how to strengthen the laws dealing with illicit funds, commissioning a study on the generation of black money and the setting up of a special Directorate of Income Tax (Criminal Investigation).
Baba Ramdev's object is to compel the authorities to facilitate the return of black money to the country; the UPA's is to persuade him to abandon his fast.
Mr. Hazare's fast ended with the government capitulating to his demand for a joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill, but not before the issue had resonated throughout the country. With Baba Ramdev's publicists claiming that around one crore people from across the country will join him in his protest against corruption, the prospect is unnerving.
So a week ago, chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) Sudhir Chandra — accompanied by a team of revenue officials — met Baba Ramdev to explain the steps the government had taken to tackle the problem, as well as the legal difficulties they faced in bringing back unaccounted money from the various tax havens. The yoga exponent had described the talks as “very positive,” but refused to change his plan until he saw some action.
Next on May 28, the government set up a committee under Chairman, CBDT, to examine the existing legal and administrative framework to curb the generation of black money, its illegal transfer abroad and its recovery. The committee, a government release said, would consider declaring wealth generated illegally as a national asset; enacting/amending laws to confiscate and recover such assets; and providing for exemplary punishment. The report should be ready within six months.
Then on May 29, the government announced that the Finance Ministry had commissioned an “in-depth and fresh study,” engaging three top national-level institutions to estimate unaccounted income and wealth held within and outside India, to throw light on the nature of activities that encourage money laundering and its ramifications on national security.
Curiously, this is not a new measure, as the same release says the study had commenced in March 2011 and was expected to be completed within a period of 18 months. Indeed, the information was first given by Minister of State for Finance S.S. Palanimanickam in a written reply to a question raised in the Rajya Sabha on March 1, 2011.
Finally, on Monday, May 30, the government announced yet another measure to deal with corruption and black money: it said it planned to create a new Directorate of Income Tax (Criminal Investigation), to be headed by an officer of the rank of Chief Commissioner of Income Tax ‘to look into criminal matters having any financial implication and which could be punishable as an offence under any direct tax law.'