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Indian SC forms body to probe corruption after govt hesitation

05 July, 2011

Indian SC forms body to probe corruption after govt hesitation
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NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court on Monday ordered a special investigation into undeclared money stashed in foreign bank accounts, while accusing the government of “serious lapses” in handling the issue. The court appointed a special committee, headed by a former supreme court judge, to take the probe forward and ordered the government to disclose the names of those currently under investigation.

Estimates for the amount of illicit money deposited secretly in overseas bank accounts by wealthy Indians and corporations range from $500 billion to $1.4 trillion. Voicing concerns that such “black money” could be used for “unlawful and anti-national activities,” the court said government efforts to locate and recover the funds had been half-hearted. The government insists it is doing all it can to uncover the funds, but argues that it is hamstrung by legal restrictions and the lack of tax information exchange agreements with a number of renowned tax havens.

Supreme Court Justice Sudershan Reddy slammed the government’s “lack of seriousness and effect” and highlighted what the bench called “serious lapses in the investigation”. Back in February, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said legal notices had been served to 17 people in connection with foreign bank holdings. But he added that international agreements and other legal hurdles prevented their identities from being revealed.

Opposition parties have been quick to pick up on public anger over the black money issue, accusing the government of seeking to cover up the scale of the problem.

Online Adds: With a majority of political parties batting for parliamentary supremacy on the Lokpal bill, the Indian government on Monday expressed confidence that a consensus will emerge on the issue and a draft legislation would be introduced in parliament in the upcoming Monsoon Session.

“We are very happy with the outcome of the all party meeting yesterday; we are confident we can take the process forward to bring the bill in the Monsoon Session and pass it as soon as possible,” Home Minister P Chidambaram said.

He pointed out that Sunday’s all party meeting called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasised the primacy of the parliamentary process and the role of political parties to pilot and approve legislations.

Chidambaram’s remarks reflected a sense of relief in the government which was so far battling the civil society, led by Anna Hazare on the Lokpal issue, alone while receiving flak from the opposition parties on the issue of corruption.

“We will therefore bring a bill in the Monsoon Session of parliament. That bill will be examined. Every effort will be made to pass the bill at the earliest. But that will depend on the members of parliament and their desire to follow established procedures,” Chidambaram said.

Telecom minister Kapil Sibal made it very clear that the government had promised to bring the Lokpal bill in parliament in the Monsoon Session but there was no commitment on the timeline of passing the same. “We had said we are committed to bringing the bill in the Monsoon session. We never said it will be passed in the Monsoon Session,” Sibal said.

The minister also said two parties that took part in the all-party meeting suggested that the bill could be passed in the winter session.

Reflecting their eagerness to build a consensus, the union ministers said there was nothing wrong in a number of political parties, including the BJP, not spelling out their stand on contentious provisions of the bill like bringing the prime minister and the higher judiciary under Lokpal’s ambit.

Chidambaram said it was “legitimate and valid” that most parties reserved their views on the provisions of the bill till it will be brought before parliament.

Supporting Chidambaram’s statement, Sibal said that BJP might be requiring more time to finalise a view on the provisions. Chidambaram described as “preliminary views” opinions expressed by some political parties for or against bringing the prime minister and the judiciary under Lokpal’s ambit. “Our impression is that all these views are subject to change when we go through the procedures,” Chidambaram said.

Going a step further Sibal said, “Many of these voices that you hear will merge into the consensus.” Chidambaram downplayed UPA ally DMK’s strong assertion that both prime minister and the judiciary should be brought under Lokpal and refused to see a “divide” in the alliance. “UPA is not a political party. It’s a coalition of political parties. When you have more than one party, you may have different views on some issues. That does not mean that the UPA is divided,” Chidambaram said.

He said as long as there is a broad consensus on the bill, there is nothing to be alarmed about, and suggested the government has no problem even if some allies express different views on some provisions of the bill. Sibal pointed out that leaders of many political parties wondered at the definition of civil society and wanted to know whether five members led by Hazare represented the entire civil society of India.

End.

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