Thursday, November 27, 2014

I hope to bring in GST legislation this session, says Jaitley

New Delhi: Finance minister Arun Jaitley told members of the Lok Sabha that Indian laws will have to be harmonised with international jurisprudence, and that it would be futile to flex muscles and make laws which jeopardise international treaties, and how this would not only isolate India in the international community but that the country will be subjected to penalties. He was replying to the four-and-a-half-hour debate on black money on Thursday evening.
Agreeing with Tathagat Satpathy (Biju Janata Dal) view that the taxes should be people-friendly, he said that the remedy to check black money is reforms of tax laws. He said that the impression in the world is that India is not a tax-friendly country. Responding to Bhartrihari Mahtab (BJD), who moved the motion, that he hoped to introduce the Goods and Services Tax (GST) legislation in this session itself, and that there was a broad consensus about it. He said that differences over Direct Tax Code are being sorted out.
He referred to the Lichtenstein bank account details of 28 Indians which the Germans had and which they shared with India. The Supreme Court had asked the government to share the information with the petitioner and it became public. The Germans had pointed out to the breach of the confidentiality clause.
He said of the 28, one person had died, nine were non-resident Indians (NRIs) and who had a right to have foreign accounts. There were 18 illegal accounts and tax proceedings have been initiated against them.
He said that an employee of the HSBC bank in Geneva, who had turned whistleblower, had escaped to France with a disc containing data of account-holders, including those of 627 Indians and gave it the French government. The data related to accounts between 2005 and 2007.The French shared the information with India and other countries whose citizens had accounts.
Jaitley explained India has an agreement with Switzerland which was signed in 2011 but the Swiss refused to cooperate on the basis of stolen data. A team of Indian officials went to Geneva and have negotiated a fresh agreement, wherein the Swiss would cooperate if the Indian government came up with evidence of its own against the account-holders.
He said that of the 627, 427 had been identified and 250 of them had confessed to holding illegal accounts. Criminal cases are being pursued against 177. He said the rest of the accounts had names but there were no addresses. Replying to Bhartrihari Mahtab (Biju Janata dal) query as to why the names of the 250 who had admitted to the illegal accounts could not be made public, Jaitley argued that it would not be in line with international jurisprudence.
He deflected the opposition’s rhetorical fireworks and sought to lay before the House the legal complexities of retrieving black money stashed abroad. He said that the government brought up the issue of the confidentiality clause before the Supreme Court. The apex court had held that the Indian Constitution does not recognise the confidentiality clause embedded in international tax treaties. Jaitley said that the court had asked the government to present the issue before the Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising two retired Supreme Court judges, and that the SIT was considering it.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Congress along with other UPA partners staged a walkout midway through the speech. They said that Jaitley was not responding to the criticism that the NDA government failed to keep its promise – made by prime minister Narendra Modi during the Lok Sabha election campaign that he would bring back black money stashed abroad within 100 days and that each citizen will get a largesse of Rs 15 lakh each.

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