Panama Papers leak brings focus again on politically sensitive and economically urgent issue
Rahul Dass | April 5, 2016 | New Delhi
Filmstars and business tycoons are among the 500 Indian names that were revealed through the Panama Papers, which are over 11 million leaked documents – bringing into focus black money, a politically sensitive and economically urgent issue that has triggered considerable debate in the recent past.
Celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and his daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai as well as business tycoons like DLF founder KP Singh and IndiaBulls promoter Sameer Gehlaut feature in the huge cache of documents from Mossack Fonseca based in Panama, a country whose image is that of a haven for money laundering.
The Indian Express expose has once again shown that unaccounted-for wealth stashed abroad continues to be a bane for the country, despite promises during the heated campaign ahead of the general election that brought the NDA to power in 2014.
The Congress has repeatedly referred to prime minister Narendra Modi’s election campaign speeches in which he had said that black money to the tune of Rs 80 lakh crore was stashed abroad and his government would bring it back in 100 days of coming to power. He had also reportedly hinted that the repatriated money would be enough to deposit Rs15 lakh into the bank account of every Indian.
The NDA government did put in an effort that saw the passage of the black money bill. But that may not be enough to get black money that is hidden away from the prying eyes of tax sleuths.
Those who succeeded in avoiding taxes in India have been able to exploit the loopholes, which needs to be plugged.
The decision taken by the government to form a multi-agency group including the Financial Intelligence Unit, CBDT and RBI is a step in the right direction – with a caveat. It can also be a kneejerk reaction following the damning Panama Papers that have once again shown that all is not well without our financial system.
There are only guesstimates with regard to black money. A study by industry body Assocham says nearly $2 trillion or Rs 120 lakh crore of Indian black money is stashed overseas. That is more than the country's nominal GDP, which stood at Rs 114 lakh crore or $1.9 trillion in 2013-14. The numbers are simply mind-boggling.
Incidentally, as India struggles to bring back black money, Panama itself has not benefitted as the country has the second worst income distribution in Latin America—and about one-fourth of the population lives in poverty.