For the next month, Income Tax and economic intelligence sleuths will hit the streets looking for real beneficiaries of around 771 accounts that they fear were hired from small depositors on monthly rent to beat the anti-black money measures. Besides, top finance ministry sources also confirmed that Rs 21,000 crore was deposited in Jan Dhan accounts in West Bengal and Karnataka, which they suspect could be hired to park tainted money after the government decided to demonetize high value currency notes on 8 November.
Zero balance Jan Dhan accounts are meant for weaker sections and low-income groups to bring about comprehensive financial inclusion of all the households in the country.
Top sources said Cash Transaction Reports (CTRs) and Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) have thrown up sudden activities in 298 bank accounts from Uttar Pradesh, 137 from West Bengal and 121 from Bihar, besides some allegedly ‘rented accounts’ in at least 11 more states. And this brewing illicit activity to dodge demonetisation policy is just the tip of ‘rent an account’ scam. It is a far-reaching, organised scam, confided a senior official privy to the ongoing investigation, suspecting a deep conspiracy being hatched by a well-oiled network to pile huge unaccounted wealth in zero balance accounts and make it legitimate.
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The transactions, officials said, are in fact shocking and as per the details provided by the reporting entities — banks — definitely warrant additional scrutiny.
Since the announcement of the demonetisation policy a fortnight ago, the government has directed all public and private banks to detect and report potentially illegal and suspicious transactions that may flow through zero balance and Jan Dhan accounts that officials believe are the most favoured tools for black money hoarders to deposit large amounts of cash. A government source confirmed that the government has launched a manual transaction monitoring system, targeting specific types of transactions, conducted across the 371 District Central Cooperative Banks (DCCBs) and a letter was shot off on 15 November after reports emerged that some cooperative banks accepted large amounts of cash on 8 November — the day Prime Minister announced the game-changer move at 8 pm.
“We have asked for the two reports. One is specifically about deposits till midnight on 8 November and the second report is on cash deposited between 10 and 14 November. All the cooperative banks have been told to file a daily report on cash deposits from 15 November. The direction very clear states that farmers and genuine customers in rural areas are not to be harassed. The investigation will take up the cases only linked to hiring and misuse of someone’s account by black money hoarders,” he said, further adding that similar instructions have been issued to regional rural banks and state cooperative banks.
However, the government direction also points out that the whole exercise should not bring discomfiture to the farmers preparing for Rabi crop season.
The Income Tax directive on ‘hiring bank accounts’ to convert black money into white makes it harshly clear that both — the account holder and tenant — will be punished as per the new law introduced in the Prohibition of BenamiProperty Transaction Act, 1988. “The benamidar, beneficial owner and any other person who abets or induces the benami transactions shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment from one year to seven years and shall be liable to fine.”