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One week to notify black-money SIT

New Delhi, May 23: The Supreme Court today gave the Centre a week to notify the three-member special investigation team it had appointed to unearth the black money stashed by Indians in foreign accounts.

The vacation bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and A.K. Sikri also asked the Centre to ensure that all files and documents containing information on the black money accounts are “kept under the custody of a revenue department officer not below the rank of secretary”.

The bench passed the order after solicitor-general Mohan Parasaran urged the court to grant one more week’s time to notify the special investigation team (SIT) as a new government was yet to assume charge.

He said the draft notification was ready with the outgoing government but since a new dispensation was taking over, the matter had been left to it.

Senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, the petitioner in the case, sought safe custody of the documents in view of Monday’s fire at Shastri Bhavan, which houses several government departments.

“You have burnt Shastri Bhavan; don’t burn North Block (which houses the finance ministry),” the senior counsel said in a lighter vein to Parasaran.

Along with the banter, Jethmalani expressed fears that documents relating to the black money case, said to be stored in Shastri Bhavan, may be destroyed deliberately. He sought the court’s intervention.

Conceding his plea, the apex court asked the outgoing UPA government to keep the documents in the custody of a senior revenue department officer.

Last month, the apex court had warned the Centre that failure to notify the SIT would amount to contempt. In July 2011, the apex court had directed that an SIT be set up and notified but the Centre has not yet fully complied with the order.

Earlier in 2011, Jethmalani had filed a public interest litigation for an SIT to be set up to probe allegations that black money amounting to Rs 70,000 crore was stashed in foreign banks and, if this was found true, to take steps to bring it back to the country.

On July 4, the then apex court bench of Justices Sudarshan Reddy (now retired) and S.S. Nijjar had castigated the government for not showing any seriousness in retrieving the money.

Although the Centre opposed the formation of an SIT, the bench rejected the plea and passed an order for its constitution.

The SIT was set up with former Supreme Court judge, Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, as its chairperson. It is yet to be notified.

“The volume of alleged income-taxes owed to the country, as demanded by the Union of India itself, and the volume of monies, by some accounts $8.04 billion, and some other accounts in excess of Rs 70,000 crore, are said to have been routed through various bank accounts of Hassan Ali Khan and Tapurias. Further, from all accounts it has been acknowledged that none of the named individuals has any known and lawful sources for such huge quantities of monies,” the apex court had said in 2011.

“All of these factors, either individually or combined, ought to have immediately raised questions regarding the sources being unlawful activities, national security, and transfer of funds into India for other illegal activities, including acts against the State. It was only at the repeated insistence by us that such matters have equal, if not even greater importance than issues of tax collection, has the Union of India belatedly concluded that such aspects also ought to be investigated with thoroughness.”

It added: “However, there is still no evidence of a really serious investigation into these other matters from the national security perspective.”