Minister apologises for losing cool

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Friday said the income tax assessments of Hassan Ali Khan had been completed and steps were under way to prosecute him.

He stressed that Mr. Khan had not escaped the country and the government would abide by the directive of the Supreme Court in this regard. The issue was raised by some members during question hour in the Lok Sabha. They wanted to know why Mr. Khan had been allowed to flee the country and the Finance Minister pointed out this was not the case.

With members still not satisfied with his response and demanding that he make public the names of those who have black money stashed away in secret bank accounts abroad, Mr. Mukherjee lost his cool. The law of the land had to be followed, he said firmly. “My department had also raided the residence of a CPI (M) leader, but I cannot hang her. The law of the land is there. It has to be followed.”

Congress president Sonia Gandhi too appeared a bit discomfited by his knee-jerk reaction and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal quietly signalled to him.

That led to more noisy scenes and some Left MPs began moving towards the well demanding an apology from Mr. Mukherjee. The Speaker quickly announced a short adjournment. When the House convened again, Mr. Mukherjee apologised for losing his temper. He again reiterated the point that Mr. Khan would not be allowed to leave the country as directed by the Supreme Court.

On the black money issue, he said the government had adopted a five-pronged strategy to try and get the names of secret account holders through treaties with a number of countries and the names could be disclosed only when the prosecution began.

Mr. Mukherjee assured the House that the government would soon ratify the U.N. Convention Against Corruption.

As regards money stashed away in Switzerland, he said he expected some information to be made available from April 1, 2011. Till date only once during the Nuremberg trials in the 1940s had the Swiss banks revealed the names of some account holders.

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