Regulating Black Money

The black money bill was passed by the Lok Sabha, and then the Rajya Sabha in May, 2015. Titled the “Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of New Tax) Bill, 2015”, it seeks to check the black money menace with stringent provisions for those stashing illegal wealth abroad. The Bill provides for separate taxation of any undisclosed income in relation to foreign income and assets. Such income will henceforth not be taxed under the Income-tax Act but under the stringent provisions of the new legislation. According to the Bill, those who conceal income and assets and indulge in tax evasion in relation to foreign assets can face rigorous imprisonment of up to 10 years. The offence will be non-compoundable and the offenders will not be permitted to approach the Settlement Commission for resolution of disputes. There will also be a penalty of 300 per cent of taxes on the concealed income and assets.

According to the Bill, undisclosed foreign income or assets shall be taxed at the flat rate of 30 per cent. No exemption or deduction or set off of any carried forward losses which may be admissible under the existing Income-tax Act, 1961, shall be allowed. And concealment of income in relation to a foreign asset will attract penalty equal to three times the amount of tax (90 per cent of the undisclosed income or the value of the undisclosed asset). This would be over and above tax at a flat rate of 30 per cent.

The Bill also proposes to make concealment of income and evasion of tax in relation to a foreign asset a ‘predicate offence’ under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, which will enable the enforcement agencies to attach and confiscate the accounted assets held abroad and launch proceedings.

It seeks to make non-filing of income tax returns or filing of returns with inadequate disclosure of foreign assets liable for prosecution with punishment of rigorous imprisonment of up to 7 years. To protect persons holding foreign accounts with minor balances which may not have been reported out of oversight or ignorance, it has been provided that failure to report bank accounts with a maximum balance of upto Rs.5 lakh at any time during the year will not entail penalty or prosecution.

The tax liability on an overseas property would be computed on the basis of its current market price, not the price at which it was acquired.

The Bill provides for a short window for those holding overseas assets to declare their wealth, pay taxes and penalties to escape punitive action. Failure to furnish return in respect of foreign income or assets shall attract a penalty of Rs.10 lakh. The same amount of penalty is prescribed for cases where although the assessee has filed a return of income, but he has not disclosed the foreign income and asset or has furnished inaccurate particulars of the same.

The Income Tax assesses with overseas assets will get a one-time opportunity for declaring them. The time-frame of the short window will be notified after the passage of the bill.

A comprehensive study on India’s parallel economy, conducted by the Union Finance Ministry’s think tank, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), has made sensational revelations about black money generated by domestic economic activity. The study, presented to the Finance Minister and the newly-set up SIT on black money, says the extent of unaccounted money generated in today’s globalised Indian economy could go upto 71 per cent of India’s GDP.India’s GDP is roughly $2 trillion. This means the parallel economy could be of the order of $1.4 trillion. This is particularly significant because most studies done on India’s black economy in the past, especially the pre-liberalization era, put the value of the parallel economy at less than 30 per cent of GDP. The study reckons the parallel economy may have multiplied in the past 25 years. This period also saw India’s deeper integration with the world economy which itself may have further boosted the growth of India’s parallel economy.

The Bill, once it is implemented as a Law, will certainly play a significant role in bringing back black money into the declared economy, improve tax collections and boost overall economic growth.


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