NEW DELHI: Scaling up the operation against black money and corruption, benami, or proxy-owned property worth Rs 600 crores has been seized by the Income Tax department over the last six months under a refurbished law that lets the government takeover properties bought in fake names. In all, the tax authorities have detected over 400 benami transactions in 240 cases.
The benami prohibition law was first enacted 1988 back but was not implemented for over 28 years because of technical problems in the law. The gaps were finally fixed last year; it stipulates a seven year jail term for people who violate this law.
In the weeks after he made the surprise decision to scrap 86 per cent of the currency notes on November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared the government would go after benami properties next.
And it did.
Tax officials found a driver with land worth Rs 7.7 crore in Madhya Pradesh' Jabalpur, a professional in Mumbai who had been buying properties in the name of shell companies that exist only on paper and a former employee of a jeweller who had nine properties registered in his name, all of them belonging to the jeweller.
The tax department said immovable properties valued at 530 crores were attached in 40 cases alone. In these cases, the properties were located in Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
But it is only during the last one month that the IT department has stepped on the gas.
IT department said searches had been carried out at locations linked to 10 "senior government officials" in the last one month to "unearth black money earned through corrupt practices and introduce accountability and probity in public life".
The list got longer on Wednesday. Over 100 tax officials carried out searches at premises of senior Uttar Pradesh officials including Vimal Kumar Sharma, the additional chief of the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority and Mamta Sharma, regional transport officer in western Uttar Pradesh's Meerut.
Also on the Income Tax department's radar for holding benami property is Misa Bharti, a Rajya Sabha member and daughter of Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav. During the day, she and her husband Shailesh Kumar were ordered to appear before the tax authorities early next month to explain their links to some properties that is suspected to be a benami property. Ms Bharti is already facing a probe by the Enforcement Directorate.
The government has also setup 24 dedicated Benami Prohibition Units under the tax department across the country to intensify the scrutiny on land transfers and big purchases.
Officials expect it to be increasingly difficult for the corrupt to make benami transactions in the future because of rules in many states that require buyers and sellers of land to provide their Aadhaar numbers. A similar rule for permanent account number (PAN) cards would also help.