The Supreme Court on Tuesday sternly directed the central government to provide the names of all Indian foreign account holders given by the German, French and Swiss authorities, in a sealed cover by Wednesday, sending many to scurry for cover, including many political leaders.
Once given to the apex court, the fate of those with foreign bank accounts will remain with the Supreme Court whether to make them public or not. Otherwise, the Income tax Department has reportedly sent notices to them and received replies in majority of cases.
A bench of Chief Justice H.L. Dattu, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and Justice Madan B. Lokur told Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that the government need not do anything but just disclose the names to the court and it will decide whether the matter should be investigated by the income tax authorities or by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
As Rohatgi said that the veracity of the disclosed accounts is being investigated by the income tax authorities, Chief Justice Dattu said: “Why do you want to have the trouble of investigating. You give it to us. We will direct the CBI or the income tax authorities to undertake investigation in a month’s time… We don’t want the money that belongs to this country to go outside.”
“I have the list of 500 names, some of them are very sketchy,” Rohtagi told the court trying to hold his ground. The government had told that court Monday that it could not disclose the names to the apex court even in the proceedings under the constitution’s article 32 under which the apex court could be moved for upholding fundamental rights.
But the court refused the argument. “First give us the names, we will get them investigated. Not just one, two or three (names), give us in a sealed cover what you have got from French, German and Swiss governments,” the court told Rohatgi, wondering why the government was having “protective umbrella” for the account holders.
The attorney general was told to give the names by Wednesday. “It will never happen during our time,” the court said expressing its misgivings on government’s assertion that under the SIT’s supervision, the income tax department will issue statutory notice to the people with foreign bank accounts whose names were disclosed by the foreign government.
“We will never know that,” the court observed as Rohatgi said the government would come to the court after concluding the investigations. The court refused to modify its earlier order saying: “By this application you want to re-argue the entire case.”
It said that it too had the same concern as petitioner Ram Jethmalani, while noting Rohatgi’s submission that the government was “not interested in holding back any name. We have disclosed all the names and details to the SIT headed by two former judges of the apex court. Once we get their (accounts) veracity checked, the process would be set into motion”.
Faced with a situation where he was unable to persuade the court on the government’s intention to unearth black money and reveal the names of those who stashed it in tax havens, Rohatgi told the court: “Tell me that what can I do to allay your impression that we want to hide something.”
Finding that the court was unrelenting on its insistence to get the names, he said: “The court will have to take the responsibility that that I will not be able to enter the treaty” scheduled to be signed with US in December wherein confidentiality of information is integral.
“We are not that helpless. We will deal with the problem when it comes,” Chief Justice Dattu said brushing aside the government’s contention.