Archana Khatri Das
The government is busy patting its back claiming Income Declaration Scheme(IDS 2016) a huge success. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, on Saturday, was visibly pleased to announce that 64,275 declarants disclosed an amount of Rs 65,250 crore, in a one-time compliance window.
The declaration is likely to yield the government Rs 29,362 crore in taxes.
The Finance Minister was also voluble on the steps taken by the government in the past years in bringing black money under the tax net.
From the overall actions and reactions emerging from government quarters, two messages have stood out for tax offenders. One: don't evade tax, or else, the law will catch up with you. The government has repeatedly said that those who earn must pay taxes, particularly when non-payment in all likelihood is going to be detected.
"Everybody, including tax department, is aware of the sectors in which unaccounted money is generated. It would be very unpleasant duty for any state to start the process of big brother watching," Finance Minister Jaitley said at an event earlier. And the second one, which has changed the tack in the approach to tackling tax evasion in India: be bold in coming out clean in accepting that you evaded tax, and fetch compliments from the authorities.
Prime Minister's tweet, after the Finance Minister's declaration on Saturday that 64,275 declarants disclosed an amount of Rs 65,250 crore says it all, "I compliment all those who chose to be tax compliant in IDS-2016. This is a great contribution towards transparency and growth of the economy", almost lauding the black money hoarders and tax evaders.
In fact, Finance minister Arun Jaitley asked black money hoarders to come clean on unaccounted wealth and live with "heads held high". While encouraging people to come out clean, he emphasized that the government has given up the "big brother watching" approach.
Even as IDS was announced, it was made clear that no questions will be asked on the source of income. The scheme had emphatically said that no questions will be asked on the source of undisclosed income. The government sent out a clear message as it wrapped up IDS 2016 that it is not going to witch-hunt or victimise anyone who files declaration by the deadline of September 30.
"The department does not intend to be vindictive. Declarants will be treated under relevant tax laws, irrespective of filing under the Income Disclosure Scheme. Regarding the action henceforth, this is an issue of tax department. Individual taxmen will not take vindictive action," said Jaitley in a press conference on Saturday.
The Finance Ministry has maintained that it would not relent under pressures of any agency including including the Comptroller & Auditor General and share data related to declarations made under the Scheme.
All the voices emanating from the Finance Ministry, whether the Revenue Scretary Hansmukh Adhia, or the Finance Minister himself, have promised complete confidentiality for all those disclosing hitherto undisclosed income.
The Finance Ministry, is so tight-lipped on the details of the scheme that it is even refusing to share any data on the number of accounts or even the state-wise breakup or the highest declaration made under the scheme.
It is ironical that tax evasion is so deeply permeated, almost like culture in India that the authorities have to mollycoddle the Indian tax evader to shed at least some of the undisclosed income, if not all.
But, for how long the mollycoddling will work? The undisclosed income that the government expects to garner from IDS 2016 is, undoubtedly, not even a scratch of the vast parallel black money economy running in the country. We need to see the outcomes of the subsequent Income Declaration Schemes to judge the effectiveness of the "mollycoddling" approach adopted by the government. After all one swallow doesn't make a summer.