Accusing the Modi government of showing a “tearing hurry” to hush up the entire ‘Sahara’ issue, the Congress on Friday demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi must face personal accountability and investigation on the alleged charges of receipt of money from two industrial houses—Aditya Birla and Sahara Group.
Addressing the media, Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala said, “The entire case against the ‘Sahara Group’ is now being sought to be closed in a hush-hush and conspiratorial manner with startling speed. This further indicates that Modi Government has ‘something to hide’ and is in an alarming hurry to brush the entire matter under the carpet.” He also asked why the Sahara Group was granted “complete immunity” from penalty and prosecution.
The Indian Express had on Thursday revealed that the Income Tax Settlement Commission (ITSC) had hurriedly absolved the Sahara Group on November 10, 2016 in the ‘Sahara papers’ case on which the opposition has been demanding an inquiry; and, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has been asking the PM to reply to corruption charges. The article said the ITSC had also granted Sahara India immunity from prosecution and penalty following Income Tax (IT) Department raids conducted on November 22, 2014 during which “diaries” listing alleged pay-offs to politicians including Narendra Modi when he was Gujarat Chief Minister, were recovered. The article added that during the raid, ₹137 crore was also seized.
Surjewala said the documents seized in the November 22, 2014 raid stated alleged cash payments to many individuals including “Modiji” nine times over six months totalling ₹40.1 crore. “This document dated November 22, 2014 is duly signed by Income Tax authorities and witnesses. The date of payment, place of payment, persons to whom cash is paid and persons to whom cash is delivered are mentioned,” he said.
Surjewala demanded the Modi government’s explanation as to why corroborative evidence was not collected to substantiate the payments made in the Sahara case. “Is it because it reflected the name of none less than PM Narendra Modi himself?” he asked
The ITSC, in its recent November 10 order, had admitted that ownership of documents and electronic record reflecting payment of money belongs to ‘Sahara Group’, he pointed out. However, it said that corroborative evidence was to be collected by the Income Tax department: “The papers seen by us during the course of the 245D(4) proceedings also do not throw much light on the veracity of the payments or receipts as depicted therein. We have also noted that ‘no corroborative evidence’ was collected by the department.”
Surjewala demanded the Modi government’s explanation as to why corroborative evidence was not collected to substantiate the payments made. “Is it because it reflected the name of none less than PM Narendra Modi himself?” he asked, demanding “a free, fair and independent investigation” of the ‘Sahara Papers’.
He also alleged that the Financial Intelligence Unit had reported suspicious transactions in 4,574 bank accounts of ‘Sahara Group’ on April 28, 2013; which was also reported to Enforcement Directorate on May 3, 2013 along with details of bank accounts. “Why has the Modi government not investigated and taken action on these important pieces of information regarding 4,574 bank accounts of Sahara Group?” said the Congress senior spokesman.
The ITSC had, in fact, settled the entire matter of ‘Sahara papers’—from hearing to decision—in only 16 days and three hearings between October 25 and November 10. “Why is the Modi government showing such tearing hurry to close the entire ‘Sahara’ issue?” Surjewala said. He allleged that the ITSC order appears to have helped Sahara Group gain a concession of not paying tax on the income of ₹1,910 crore.
“What is the underlying reason for showing such benevolence to an industrial house, which has been caught with unaccounted cash and papers reflecting non-disclosure of income running into a few thousand crores?” asked Surjewala.