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 (Image courtesy: incometaxindia.gov.in)
 
“The Indian government’s white paper is so white, so white, that you can’t read anything on it. So it’s useless....”
Mr. Narendra Modi stated this on 31st August 2012 when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat.  He poked fun at UPA as well as sounded serious at #ModiHangout while giving three-sentence reply to a question on black money stashed abroad.  
Time is ripe to spin this banter on NDA Government. Its efforts to bring back black money to the country have been so white to the point of being totally inconsequential. And the Modi Government is not hiding this truth.
Click the ‘tackling black money’ button on the home page of Department of Revenue (http://dor.gov.in/tacklebm), the viewer would find that the page was last updated on 24th April 2014 during the UPA regime!
The page captioned ‘Efforts of Government in Tackling Black Money’ displays four documents. These are:  Baseline Report which was updated on 24th April 2014; White Paper on Black money issued on 21st May 2012, Government’s response to Swami Ramdev's letter to the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Report of the Committee on ‘Measures to Tackle Black Money in India and Abroad’ that submitted its report in August 2012 under the leadership of Chairperson, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT report).
There is nothing in the public domain that can shed light on what new action the Modi Government has taken on valuable suggestions contained in the white paper and the CBDT report.
Leave aside these documents for a while. Focus on the promise made by BJP in its manifesto for 2014 Lok Sabha polls.  
The Manifesto says: “BJP is committed to initiate the process of tracking down and bringing back black money stashed in foreign banks and offshore accounts. We will set up a Task Force for this purpose and to recommend amendments to existing laws or enact new laws. The process of bringing back black money to India what belongs to India, will be put in motion on priority. We will also proactively engage with foreign Governments to facilitate information sharing on black money.”
A report prepared by Cabinet Secretariat in July 2014 for assessing the alignment of results-framework documents (RFDs) of various ministries for 2014-15 with BJP’s Manifesto is eye-opener. It has left white the column that specifies ‘manifesto's action points’ on black money. 
NDA has virtually washed its hands off from its electoral promises to bring back to India black money and distribute it among the public. 
Answering a question on steps taken to bring back black money, the Minister  of State for Finance Nirmala Sitharaman told Rajya Sabha on 8th July 2014 that “it is not possible to state by which date the black money would be brought back.”
Certain NDA ministers as well as BJP spokespersons have been quick to point that the Government acted swiftly by setting up special investigating team (SIT) to implement the decision of the Supreme Court on large amounts of offshore money generated either through tax evasion or through unlawful activities.
This was Modi Cabinet’s first decision taken on 27th May soon after its formation. The decision, as well as news reports, helped BJP spin the story that the Government was very serious in bringing back black money.
It was pointed out that UPA dragged its feet implementing SC’s order to set up SIT that was first made on 4th July 2011. SC articulated its order on 23rd May 2014 with a deadline of a week for the Government to act.  
SC’s SIT order served as a face-saver for BJP particularly Mr. Modi and his admirer Swami Ramdev, both of whom had lured electorate with the promise to deposit the repatriated black money in their accounts. 
Even Mata Lakshmi, the Godess of wealth, would have declined to put lakhs of  rupee into the accounts of each and every citizen because it is unfeasible. And it is certainly not good governance. 
The Congress party and innumerable social media activists have repeatedly taunted both the stalwarts for their failure to fulfil their electoral promises to put the seized, overseas black money in the accounts of citizens. 
Leave aside promises made at the election rally. Turn to an interview given by Mr Modi to Navbharat Times on 11th May 2014, when it became clear to everyone that BJP will win decisively and Mr. Modi would form the Government at the Centre.  Mr. Modi thus knew that responsibility to lead the nation would fall on his shoulders. He certainly had adequate time to choose his words and answers during the interview for which he would have perhaps received the questions in advance. 
Asked whether the Government would take new legislative initiatives to bring back black money hidden abroad that was not easy to access, Mr. Modi stated: “I assure the nation that it is my personal commitment to bring back black money. We will immediately set up a task force to improve the necessary legal framework.... Not only this, the fractional part of the brought-back black money would be distributed to honest tax payers, especially salaried class tax payers.” (The original Q&A in Hindi are:एनबीटीः विदेश से काला धन लाना आसान नहीं है? कई विदेशी कानून इसमें अड़चन बने हुए हैं। आप इन्हें कैसे दूर करेंगे और यदि काला धन वापस आता है तो इससे देश के लोगों को क्या फायदा होगा? आपकी नजर में कितना काला धन हो सकता है?
नरेंद्र मोदीः सबसे पहली बात है काला धन वापस लाने की मंशा और संकल्पशक्ति। बीजेपी ने काले धने को वापस लाने की अपनी मंशा साफ तौर पर व्यक्त की है। हम मानते हैं कि काले धन की समस्या एक बड़ी चुनौती है। यह सिर्फ टैक्स चोरी ही नहीं बल्कि देशद्रोही प्रवृत्ति भी है। काला धन जो पैदा हुआ है और विदेशों में जमा हो रहा है, वह आगे चलकर गैर-कानूनी और देशद्रोही गतिविधियों की दिशा में चला जाता है। हमारे लिए यह अत्यंत अहम मुद्दा है। मैं देशवासियों को भरोसा दिलाता हूं कि काला धन वापस लाने की मेरी व्यक्तिगत प्रतिबद्धता है और हम तत्काल ही एक टास्क फोर्स का गठन करेंगे और इसके लिए जरूरी कानूनी सुधार के साथ-साथ कानूनी फ्रेमवर्क-ढांचे में जरूरी बदलाव भी लाएंगे। इतना ही नहीं, देश में ऐसा काला धन वापस लाकर उसका आंशिक हिस्सा ईमानदार करदाताओं विशेषकर सैलरीज क्लास के टैक्स पेयर्स को प्रदान करेंगे। यह जरूरी है कि हमारी कर-व्यवस्था-टैक्स सिस्टम ईमानदार टैक्स पेयर्स को प्रोत्साहन और इनाम देने वाली कर चोरों के खिलाफ सख्ती से पेश आने वाली हो।)
We have to accept Mr. Modi’s statement as 100% correct reporting as the entire interview was uploaded on narendramodi.in. Prime Minister thus owes an explanation to the Nation as to how and when he would get a part of repatriated black money into accounts of honest tax-payers.
When Mr. Modi made his electoral promise, he apparently overlooked the legal hurdles in bringing back the black money as mentioned in the White Paper, assuming NDA Government is able to locate majority of secret accounts where ill-gotten wealth of dishonest citizens is stashed. 
The White Paper says: “there is no international consensus to have mechanism for repatriation of undisclosed assets located abroad. Without international consensus on this issue it is difficult to implement domestic law on repatriation of assets located abroad. The only exception is the provision under the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) where, if it is established that the undisclosed asset represents corruption money, it can be seized and repatriated. India has ratified the UNCAC on 9 May 2012 and thus in cases of corruption, it will be an effective tool for repatriation of assets located abroad.”
The White Paper has a lot of information which any vigilant citizen can read to take a dispassionate view on black money. The Government should bring out an action-taken report (ATR) on recommendations contained in the white paper and in the CBDT report. It should also issue an ATR on the radical recommendations made by BJP’s task force on ‘the steps to be taken by India on Indian Black Money Abroad in Secret Banks and Tax Havens black money.’ The task force gave two reports in 2009 & 2011. 
Through such initiatives, NDA Government would be doing a great favour to citizens who have been checking their bank accounts with hope that it would give them black money, if not jobs. 
Published by taxindiaonline.com on 1st November 2014
                                              
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