Amendments have added teeth to benami act

Some of the action is directly related to the demonetisation drive, during which the tax department found evidence of funds being deposited in the bank accounts of others.

Amendments have added teeth to benami actThe income tax department has started cracking down on those with “benami“ assets, issuing notices in 87 cases and attaching 42 properties, including those allegedly linked to a retired bureaucrat, a paper mill owner and people associated with an education trust in South India.

Some of the action is directly related to the demonetisation drive, during which the tax department found evidence of funds being deposited in the bank accounts of others.For instance, tax department sources alleged that the paper mill owner deposited money in the accounts of 780 employees. Similarly , the office bearers of a trust that runs medical and other colleges are accused of depositing Rs 2 -2.5 lakh or more in the accounts of around 40 employees. The action follows PM Modi’s promise of more measures after demonetisation, including the use of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, which was amended last year. Under the law, a transaction is termed “bena mi“ if the property is held by one person but has been paid for by someone else. Then there is the case of a retired IAS officer from Haryana, who is accused of acquiring an apartment which was registered in someone else’s name.

“A bulk of the cases relate to money in benami accounts,“ a source said. The tax department has been collating data to target those who may have sought to deposit old notes in bank accounts and try to convert black money into white. Already , several notices have been sent, the use of the benami property law is the latest move.

While the law to crack down on benami property was enacted in 1988, the amendments carried out last August empowered agencies to attach property and ultimately confiscate it. It also provides for rigorous imprisonment of one to seven years and a fine that can be up to 25% of the market value of the asset. The new law has enhanced the provision for imprisonment beyond three years and has been effective since November, when Modi announced demonetisation of the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.

The fresh offensive is meant to deal with those who have opted to invest unaccounted funds in other assets, instead of keeping it in cash, and in the process deny the government its dues in the form of taxes

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