|Helping the corrupt|
|Monday, 25 July 2011 00:00|
Thanks to all the heat generated over corruption and black money, the government has finally approved a Bill—Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill 2011—which, it claims, will help the authorities confiscate what are suspected to be the proceeds of crime. Benami is a property whose owner literally has no name. More often than not, when investigators finally zero in on property bought from the proceeds of a crime, they find the property in question belongs to someone else on paper—tracing the paper trail back to the original crime is an uphill task, and confiscating it next to impossible. The new Bill tries to fix this and has defined punishment for this. Since the Bill isn’t yet public, all we have are what the I&B minister put out at a briefing. The punishment for benami transactions has been reduced, but the government says the property can be confiscated once the person concerned is given a fair hearing.
That’s a good start. The problem lies in the Bill defining benami in such a way it excludes properties held by relatives such as spouses, children, brothers and sisters. So, if someone accused of a crime uses this to buy property that is held benami (in the name of his servant, for instance), under the new Bill, this can be confiscated by the state once the crime is proved and once the property’s owner is given a fair hearing. But if the same person buys the property in the name of his wife or daughter, the same Bill cannot be used to confiscate this. Sure, the properties can still be confiscated by going through the usual process of the law, but that can take several decades and quite impossible to prove. Hopefully, the final Bill will take care of this glaring shortcoming.