By Harshmeet Singh
Moving forward on its long standing commitment of bringing back the illicit Indian money concealed abroad, the Modi Government, on Friday, finally tabled a bill in the Lok Sabha which would cover such offences. Called the ‘The Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill, 2015’, it would come into effect (if passed by the Parliament) beginning from 1st April, 2016.
The official statement before the introduction of the Bill said “In order to fulfil the commitment made by the Government to the people of India through the Parliament, the Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill, 2015 has been introduced in the Parliament on 20.03.2015. 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 proposed new legislation,”
Major provisions of the Bill
The Bill includes the following penalties to be levied upon Black money holders –
Any non-disclosed income or asset outside India would attract a penalty tax, which would be thrice the normal tax slab of 30%, making it 90%. Significantly, this penalty would be over and above the normal tax payable at 30%.
- If the individual doesn’t furnish returns on his / her foreign income or asset (even if there is no taxable income), it would result in a penalty of Rs 10 lakh. However, undisclosed foreign accounts worth less than Rs 5 lakh won’t attract any penalty.
- Apart from the hefty fines, the wilful offenders of tax evasion would also be slapped with a rigorous imprisonment for a period of 3 to 10 years.
- If the person fails to furnish returns on the foreign assets and income held by him / her (even if there is no taxable income), it would attract a rigorous imprisonment for a period ranging from 6 months to 7 years.
- Aiding or enticing in filing a false return or incorrect declaration would also result into a rigorous imprisonment for a period ranging from 6 months to 7 years. This clause is also applicable to the financial intermediaries and Banks who assist in such secrecy. The beneficial owners of the asset would also come under the purview of this provision.
Safeguards in the Bill
Following the principles of natural justice, as mentioned in our constitution, the proposed bill contains multiple provisions for ensuring that the accused gets enough chances to prove his / her innocence. The bill calls for obligatory issue of notices to the accused, a fair chance of being heard, providing orders in writing, acceptance of the evidence brought forth by him to prove his stand and much more. Furthermore, the accused would also have the right to appeal to the ‘Income tax appellate tribunal’, the concerned High Court and the Supreme Court, if needed.
To encourage voluntary disclosure, the bill also provides for a one time reprieve to all those who would be willing to voluntarily disclose their illicit money or assets stashed abroad. This provision is applicable only for a limited period wherein the person must disclose his / her foreign asset and file a declaration to the concerned tax authority by paying the legitimate tax and the penalty. Notably, this isn’t a pardoning clause since the person would still be slapped with the penalty in proportion to the undisclosed assets. However, the persons making voluntary disclosures won’t be prosecuted under the harsh provisions introduced in the Bill.
The bill also seeks to amend the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and bring ‘concealment of income and evasion of tax in relation to a foreign asset’ under its purview as a ‘predicate offence’. This move would empower the enforcement agencies to impound the foreign assets in question and begin its proceedings. The date of opening of the foreign account has also been made a mandatory disclosure under the proposed bill.