NEW DELHI, Oct 1, (Agencies): Indians declared $500 million in black money, the government announced Thursday, a fraction of the total amount feared hidden, as a deadline for coughing up assets hidden from the taxman expired. Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power last year pledging to crack down on black money, a systemic problem in India that sees billions of rupees hidden in foreign bank accounts or funnelled into property abroad.
The finance ministry said more than 600 tax evaders had made declarations by midnight on Wednesday — when a three-month window for unveiling stashes and avoiding prosecution ended. The ministry said “638 number of declarations have been received under the compliance window declaring undisclosed foreign assets,” amounting to 37.7 billion rupees ($574 million).
The government has announced a string of measures to crack down on black money, including a 10-year jail term for evaders who get caught from now on. But Ashutosh Kumar Mishra, executive director of Transparency International in India, doubted whether the government could find the money offshore given how deeply entrenched the phenomenon has become. “It’s not easy. You need a set of clear reforms and determined political will and it will take years,” Mishra told AFP. India is one of the most cash-intensive societies in the world, corruption is endemic, and strict tax laws encourage people to keep money off the official books.
Estimates of Indian black money abroad vary widely. Some $439 billion left the country illicitly from 2003-2012, according to estimates from the Global Financial Integrity group in Washington. The wealthy channel money to tax havens such as Switzerland or Singapore, convert it into jewellery, antiques, paintings or property, or send a relative abroad for half the year to avoid tax. Only 2.89 percent of Indians pay any income tax at all, India’s previous finance minister told parliament in 2013.
An Indian minister monitoring $1.8 billion of foreign aid has accused Greenpeace of inciting protests against industrial projects and warned global activists and aid organisations not to work against the government. The warning from junior home minister Kiren Rijiju follows a crackdown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration on foreignfunded non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Greenpeace and the Ford Foundation.
The crackdown has been criticised by the United States and Indian civil society groups. Greenpeace activists were “unnecessarily inciting innocent people against crucial projects without any valid reason”, Rijiju said in an interview with Reuters this week. The ministry’s foreigners division, which is under Rijiju and oversaw some $1.8 billion of incoming aid in 2014, suspended Greenpeace’s licence to get foreign funds this year, citing financial irregularities. It has frozen some Greenpeace bank accounts. The actions came after Greenpeace supported protests against a planned $3.2 billion coal mine in the Mahan forests in central India, which resulted in a court withdrawing permits for the Indian companies Essar and Hindalco to develop the project.