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The fight against black money needs more reform, reasonable taxes, and wider but simpler regulations.

With the Narendra Modi government in its last lap heading toward the next general election, promises made in the last election campaign are rightly being scrutinised. One especially flamboyant promise that Modi made was to bring back to India all the black money that was stashed abroad and redistribute those monies to the poor. Fighting corruption and black money more broadly were important themes of the campaign where Modi was seen as strong and the incumbent Congress led government, vulnerable.

Four years on, despite a lot of noise, not much progress seems to have been made. Demonetisation did not succeed in eliminating black money at home, although it did act like a one time “tax” on holders of illicit cash. As for money stashed abroad, the government has been in a defensive posture since a recent news story which as it turns out erroneously claimed that money deposited in Swiss banks had jumped by 50%. In a bizarre twist, it took the Swiss ambassador to India to point out the error and point to the correct data from the Bank of International Settlements, which showed to the contrary that money deposited in Switzerland fell by 35 percent between 2016-2017, the last year for which we have data.

After the initial report, the government’s response was that not all money stashed abroad is black. However, after the error was revealed, it pointed to the decline in money held by Indians in Swiss banks as a sign that the government’s efforts were paying off.

Interestingly, BIS data (see chart) paints another picture. This shows clearly that Indian residents’ money in Swiss banks after rising steadily reached a peak in 2007 and has been steadily declining since then. In other words, the decline last year is simply the continuation of a trend that goes back to the previous government, and it is hard to see how the current government can take much credit for this.

More to the point, the decline in monies held in Swiss banks not just by wealthy Indians but by others has much more to do with Switzerland than India. Under fire from many countries, Switzerland has been forced to water down their bank secrecy laws and make data available to the home countries of depositors who were previously secret.

In other words, illicit money may now be shifting from Switzerland to elsewhere rather than going down. Data on this is hard to come by since many banks and tax havens do not make their data available for scrutiny.

However, Hong Kong has for the last few years and that data shows deposits by Indians in Hong Kong banks increased by 50% in the same year it dropped in Swiss banks. What is more, the amount that went into Hong Kong banks in 2017 (US $4.6 billion) was larger than what was deposited in Swiss banks (US $0.52 billion). Further, as widely reported, at present some 53% of money deposited abroad is in Asian tax havens. These are inconvenient facts for anyone who wants to claim that the government’s crackdown is working.

The truth is that a promise to bring back black money never made much sense as a priority although it appeared to resonate with voters disgruntled with corruption. But this focusses on the symptoms rather than the cause of the disease. Large quantities of black money are generated in India because of the remnants of the licence raj and exorbitantly high taxes and onerous regulations which drive people and businesses into the grey and black economies. Indeed, we’ve been creeping back in this direction with command and control policies like anti-profiteering authority constituted after the GST. This will only increase the possibilities for rent seeking and black money.

A crusade against black money stashed abroad does nothing to reduce the incentive to generate black money and therefore cannot solve the problem in the long run. That would require more reform, reasonable taxes, and wider but simpler regulations.

Rupa Subramanya is an independent economist and researcher based in Mumbai.

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9 Comments Share Your Views

9 COMMENTS

  1. 1. Problem of black money is as old as Income Tax, perhaps more than 100 years old. It is easy to say that PM Narendra Modi failed to eliminate black money. My view is that it is unreasonable to expect that PM Narendra Modi and his party BJP would be able to do that without cooperation from other political parties. 2. How many political parties have a national policy as regards control of generation of black money? If NDA government led by PM Shri Narendra Modi took a decision like demonetisation to deal with it, right thing to do was to accept that an elected government has a right to take such action as it thinks fit. 3. As I can see it, today not one political party accepts the bitter reality about black money. Opposition parties’ leaders have every right to criticise PM Narendra Modi and NDA government for manner in which it is handling of menace of black money, but is it not their responsibility to suggest an alternate plan to effectively deal with problem of black money? 4. Following steps are required to control generation of black money. (a) Compulsory and independent audit of accounts of all political parties and (b) having in place a system to effectively restrict use of cash in sale transactions of landed property where it is quite usual to understate sale price, and (c) implementation of measures to control corruption in the middle and lower level of bureaucracy.

    • Mr. Apte,
      The electorate of India gave mandate overwhelmingly in favour of Narendra Modi for redressing the grievances of the countrymen !
      What to talk of solving the burning problems and issues of the nation ironically he has not been honest, sincere and serious in
      making efforts !

      How can he or for that matter we expect positive results when he preferred to have dummies around him and sacrifice rich experience,
      talent and calibre at the altar of megalomaniac,whimsical and instinctive tendencies ? Moreover, he does not believe in learning from
      past lapses and bitter experiences never striving to make amends !

      Of his own,NaMo has miserably failed to ensure at least a working relationship with opposition parties all these more than four years !
      Shiv Sena is flaying BJP sharply but BJP still likes to cling to it ! TDP an old BJP ally severed its ties ! What does it reflect ? BJP led by
      NaMo is interested only in playing hollow politics not at all serious to deliver the goods !

      Then whose responsibility it is to explore avenues to honour the promises made to the masses ? Now why to amuse public with lame,
      false, fictitious and theatrical excuses !

      At least, NaMo must have the courage to admit failures and regret ill-conceived,ill-planned and ill-executed decisions !
      The masses are concerned with concrete results not baseless justifications !

      Prof PK Sharma,Freelance Journalist,Barnala(Punjab)

  2. Bringing the black money in Switzerland to India is definitely a very difficult task. Even congress in their election manifesto during their previous election has made some promises but they were unable to do it. But my observation is as author has stated clearly that it is inherent system in India that is the reason for this black money. So Modi’s failure is also common and not to be blamed. But Modi should understand one thing in this last four years also he has not done anything but always tries to blame Congress that is not fair.

    • Mr.Saravanan,
      You remarked : Modi’s failure…,,,.. not to be blamed. It is your largeheartedness and objective outlook !
      Ironically, Modi must have thought a thousand times before promising ” moon “and ” utopia ” to innocent electorate !

      Modi sans an iota of doubt is blameworthy not only for bringing back black money but for numerous grave problems
      and ills Indian Society is face to face with !

      He during his more than four years stint in PM Office has neither admiited any failure nor regretted any ill-conceived
      as well as ill-executed decision of his government !

      The soul-searching question for NaMo and we all Indians is ” Has everything been fine all these more than four years of
      Modi’s stint as PM ?”

      He is crazy for second term in PM office and has an insatiable lust for power without delivering the goods ! During his reply
      to the debate on No-Confidence Motion, he proved this and reflected his hollow outlook by saying that Rahul Gandhi wanted
      to remove him from PM ship instead of convincing opposition on issues and sensitive questions raised during the No-Trust
      Motion debate! He kept on beating about the bush and almost all BJP participants in the debate hovered around Congress
      frittering away their speeches by shifting blame even now for all ills, lapses and wrongs of the nation on Congress !

      Haunted so madly by Congress , NaMo or BJP cannot think anything constructive or positive ! Very amazing, what a bankruptcy
      of ideas and values in BJP !

      I am of the view that one can befool some people for some time but not all the people for all the time !
      The era of ploys, theatrics, rhetorics and eloquence is very fast on its way out ! It is so because enough is enough now!

      Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist, Barnala(Punjab)

  3. In one simple step, America got all its black money in Swiss bank to govt coffer. India can also apply same method to bring black money from Swiss bank to Indian govt account.

  4. India should not be interested in increase/ decrease of money at Swiss bank.its mission should be bring bank black money for which India govt is not looking serious.

  5. Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist,Barnala(Punjab)

    O no madam, no room for truth and facts in the Indian Polity that too now in the run up to four assembly polls this year and the Marathon-Lok Sabha Polls due in the year 2019 !

    Since years 2013,2014 the ears of we Indians feel pleased and amused only encountering ploys, rhetorics and utopian promises !
    The art of theatrics and fiction has cheered and enthused us a lot. Over the past couple of years, we have got used to this type of
    appealing narrative !

    Mr.Narendra Modi indeed happens to be the creator and author of this startling narrative !

    We are now in 21st century ! Do you think Socrates and King Harish Chandras to be relevant in present times especially in Today’s Indian Politics ! In the context of time. it is very often said,”Go with the tide ”

    At this momemt another popular dictum haunts me,”While in Rome do as the Romans do”

    In light of the afore-mentioned quotes, how fine it would have been, had you remarked that NaMo made unprecedented progress in eliminating black money as it would not raise its “black head” at least during the current century !

    Our honorable PM Modi and then Union Finance Minister but now Union Minister without Portfolio Mr.Arun Jaitley and BJP Supremo Amit Shah have all along been claiming very proudly that Demonetisation and GST decisions did a lot of good to the
    nation ! Those who say more than one hundred persons lost their lives, innocent persons standing in queues for cash subjected to untold woes,uncertainity and hardships, employment suddenly paving way for unemployment for many are in fact not well-wishers
    of India ! The GST is “well-planned “and ” well executed” decision though whimsically tax slabs till date are being revised !

    It was Ms.Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP responsible for various ills and problems in Jammu and Kashmir and that was why the BJPwithdrew support because balanced development of Jammu region and Kashmir valley was not being ensured !

    Has the most powerful duo of the day-NaMo and Amit Shah not to be believed ? Whatever it says, Is not the ultimate truth?

    No doubt, you have striven and dared to unearth truth with facts, statistics and illustrations pertaining to a 2014 Herculean-Tall Poll Promise that still hangs fire ! There is also no denying the fact that truth takes its own time to triumph but I must appreciate that the timing of your topic in question is quite upto the mark !

    It is ironically a bitter pill for the duo further adding to their woes, hardships, difficulties and nightmares !

    Time for all of us to ponder over and introspect !

    Prof PK Sharma,Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest, Barnala(Punjab)

  6. Lowering the peak rate of personal income tax to 20%, making it kick in at about a crore of rupees annually, no surcharges, would do more to eliminate the scourge of black money than all the tilting at windmills has achieved so far. The salaried class have little option, but for the self employed, professionals, businessmen, this is the trade off point at which clean, tax paid money becomes a safer, more productive option than dealing in unaccounted cash.

  7. Please share exact source links. It looks fake data as per BIS website and reports I have gone through.
    Rest all are your views unless the authenticity of data is provided, I will try and get this marked as fake news.
    Also there are many other aspects of black money crackdown with-in India, not a word on those. Bias is clear. Its no News/Journalism, its your views as I am stating mine as a consumer.

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