Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed The Benami Transactions Amendment Bill, 2015, with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley claiming that it was one in the many steps that the government had taken to stem the flow of black money into the economy. The Bill, to check benami transactions, was passed without any opposition.
The Bill, with just nine sections, had been passed by Parliament in 1988 but could never be enforced for lack of provisions in the Act for its implementation. The NDA government, Jaitley said, had chosen to bring an amendment Bill (with 71 sections) instead of a new Bill so that those who entered into benami transactions since 1988 cannot seek exemption.
Moving the Bill for consideration and passage, the minister said the legislation was predominately an anti-black money measure and its purpose is to seize benami property and prosecute those indulging in such activities. “A lot of people who have unaccounted money buy benami property in the name of fictitious persons… These transactions have to be discouraged,” he said.
On concerns expressed by certain members about religious properties or those owned by deities or religious institutions, Jaitley said such bonafide entities will be exempted. “There is Section 58 under the law which clearly states that (properties of) charitable or religious organisation… the government has power to exempt those,” Jaitley said responding to concerns expressed by some members.
RSP MP N K Premachandran raised objections to such exemption, saying this would give an escape route to unscrupulous people, who, he added, would register as religious organisations and buy property in their names.
In reply, Jaitley said the exemption was granted only to bonafide religious institutions. “If you make any illegal business out of it… if you create a fake religious sect and start keeping benami property, then government won’t exempt it, so please don’t do that,” Jaitley quipped, looking at Premachandran.
Responding to questions on why the government hadn’t come out with a new law, the minister said such a move would have given immunity to persons who acquired benami properties between 1988 and 2016. “The 1988 Act has penal provisions. Penal provisions cannot be applied retrospectively. So if a new Bill was passed in 2016, all those who acquired benami properties before 2016 would be exempt.”
Several members also raised the issue of why the Bill vested the confiscated benami property with the Centre when property was a state subject. Jaitley said that in all Central laws, confiscated property was always vested with the Centre just as in state laws, it was vested with the state.
To fears that the Bill guaranteed no protection to whistleblowers, Jaitley said such concerns would be addressed by the Whistle Blowers (Protection) Act.
He also emphasised that the Bill was not in conflict with the Income Tax Act, as suggested by some members, and was, in fact, supplementary.