New Delhi: Investigative website Cobrapost, which had earlier this year exposed some media houses succumbing to the lure of Hindutva advertorials, has now claimed to have discovered that 194 Indian politicians made false submissions regarding their permanent account numbers (PAN) while reporting their income to the Election Commission.
The website, which analysed about 2,000 affidavits sworn before the Election Commission of India (ECI) by politicians across 23 states for fighting elections between 2006 and 2016, said it found 194 of these PAN details to be fake.
Congress, BJP leaders dominate dubious list
It said among the politicians who made these submissions were 72 from the Congress and 41 from BJP. In all, leaders from 29 big and small political parties, including the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (United) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) were found involved in this duplicity.
The false submissions regarding PAN were also found to have been made by six former chief ministers, ten sitting ministers, eight former ministers and 54 sitting and 102 former Members of Legislative Assembly.
Among the big names which figure on this list are former Assam chief ministers Tarun Gogoi and Bhumidhar Barman, former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and former Himachal Pradesh chief ministers Virbhadra Singh and Prem Kumar Dhumal. Other prominent leaders include Rajasthan minister Bina Kak, Bihar cabinet minister Nand Kishore Yadav, Maharashtra minister Deshmukh Vijaykumar, Haryana minister Kavita Jain and Himachal Pradesh minister Kishan Kapoor.
Among the states, Uttar Pradesh headed this list with 26 cases of incorrect reporting by politicians followed by Madhya Pradesh (17 cases), Bihar (15), Uttarakhand (14), Assam (13), Himachal Pradesh (12) and Rajasthan (11).
‘Wrong submissions by politicians to hide exponential rise in income’
Cobrapost said experts believe that these wrong submissions may have been made by these politicians to hide the exponential rise in their income between elections and to evade tax.
It said there appeared to be a “direct correlation between the false disclosures and the growth in the income levels of many politicians, sometimes jumping manifold between two elections while their tax disclosures have become weaker, hiding more than they reveal.”
The website also noted that some of the leading electoral reforms experts it spoke to noted that deviation in disclosures made by politicians in their affidavits was a matter of “grave concern”, as it gave rise to the possibility of a fake or duplicate PAN being used to funnel illicit cash in poll campaigning.
It quoted economist and member of the Association of Democratic Reform (ADR) Ajit Ranade as saying: “We are concerned about such weak PAN disclosures and duplications found in the exercise. There are serious ramifications to this issue and it has already been flagged off to the EC by our teams in the past.”
Duplicate PANs being used to evade tax, seek fresh credit, launder money
On how the politicians were using PAN details to hoodwink the ECI and the electorate alike, Cobrapost said “maybe some are using duplicate PANs, which is a common phenomenon,” according to some Income Tax officials. This is done to evade tax, seek fresh credit and in most cases launder illicit gains into shell companies.
Under the law, the website noted that “a candidate is mandated to make due disclosures of criminal cases against him, and conviction if any, and his financial status.”
It said all candidates are required to disclose their income and assets by duly quoting their PAN issued by the Income Tax Department and that concealment of the same may invite disqualification under Section 125(A)(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, after a candidate is elected to the legislature.
Furthermore, quoting Section 139A(7) of the Income Tax Act 1961, Cobrapost said it is clearly laid down that “no person who has already been allotted a permanent account number under the new series shall apply, obtain or possess another permanent account number.”
Of late, it said, there has been a growing concern over such falsification of information with the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) investigating more than 100 lawmakers at the behest of the ECI. “Even the Supreme Court of India has expressed concern over the use of forged PAN by millions of Indians, including lawmakers,” it said.
‘Flaws exist in ECI verification process too’
The analysis, the investigative website said, also threw up some interesting facts. For instance, it said, the Election Commission does not verify the PAN details disclosed by candidates in their affidavits. “In most cases, either of the two different PANs quoted is non-existent. It means the Income Tax Department never issued the PANs in question. In cases where the same PAN has been quoted in two election years, the said PAN was found non-existent.”
Cobrapost said the falsification of PAN details, in most cases, had been done by changing a digit here or there, probably to make the number look original and to avoid immediate detection. It said this was also done to later take the defence of it being a typographical error.
‘EC does not bother to verify PAN details’
The website also stated that the Election Commission does not bother to even verify if the PAN details given by the candidates are correct despite the civil society repeated urging necessary action in this regard.
It quoted Jadeep S. Chhokar, retired professor of IIM Ahmedabad and founding member of the ADR, as saying: “It is utterly shocking, but not surprising, that the Election Commission does not verify the faking of PAN details by politicians.”
Chhokar, it said, added that ADR has been demanding for the past man years that at least the financial matters are verified within six months of the politicians being elected to the legislature so that corrective measures are taken to bar them from legislative duties. “When the Commission does not verify such information how can they prosecute them,” he had further questioned.
Cobrapost also noted that Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had disagreed with this contention saying: “It is not our mandate to verify the information provided by a poll candidate. We simply put the information in public domain for other agencies or individuals to follow up.”
However, former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, who had created a poll expenditure division in the ECI in 2010, categorically stated that the EC should have a mechanism to verify the PAN details. “Yes, the Election Commission should have a mechanism to verify PAN details provided by candidates and the CBDT should take necessary follow-up action.”
Some leading politicians involved in falsifying PAN also had criminal cases
Cobrapost said another interesting fact that emerged from the analysis was that some of the politicians involved in falsifying their PAN details also had criminal cases pending against them.
The analysis, the website said, also showed a “pattern in this behaviour” of the political class while submitting their PAN details.
“For instance, three-time former Chief Minister of Assam and six-time Lok Sabha MP Tarun Gogoi has quoted two different PANs. According to the affidavit filed with the ECI for 2006 assembly elections, Gogoi had a PAN with number ACOPG06834, which did not exist, but in the next elections held in 2011 the Congress leader quoted a different PAN ACOPG0683M,” it said adding that the Gogoi family had witnessed a phenomenal rise in its assets during the period.
“Their declared assets included immovable property worth Rs. 3.65 crore and movable assets over Rs. 35 lakh in 2011 elections. Contrast this to 2006 when Gogoi had reported a total income of Rs. 5,92,580, as shown in his income tax returns, with movable assets of Rs 35.25 lakh, including among others, Rs. 14.77 lakh in the State Bank of India Guwahati branch, Rs. 3.91 lakh in the Daryaganj branch of Indian Overseas Bank in New Delhi, Rs 11,920 in SBI Parliament Street branch in New Delhi,” it said.
Likewise in the case of BJP leader and former HP CM Prem Kumar Dhumal, it said, his style of “falsifying PAN details is as much cosher.”
“He quoted PAN AAKTD99648, which does not exist, in his affidavit to become eligible for fighting 2007 state Assembly elections. But in the elections held five years later, he found it convenient to quote a different PAN AAKPD9964E. Dhumal has five criminal cases pending against him under Sections 188, 186, 143, 499 and 500 of the IPC,” Cobrapost claimed.
Many ministers quoted non-existent PAN numbers
However, it said, the most curious case was of five-time BJP MLA and four-time minister Kishan Kapoor from Himachal Pradesh who before the 2007 state assembly elections had “quoted his PAN as AFYPK8382G, but in the next assembly elections we find him in possession of a different PAN AFUPK8382G which is found to be non-existent.”
Interestingly, Cobrapost said, “The minister is accused of indulging in not only in fraud but also in criminal behaviour.” It said in October 2013, Kapoor was booked by the Himachal Pradesh Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau, upon a high court order, under the Prevention of Corruption Act for fraudulently allotting a prime residential plot to his wife.”
Kapoor, it said, has nine criminal cases of serious nature, including kidnapping, wrongful confinement, rioting, criminal conspiracy and criminal intimidation against him.
Like some of her other party colleagues, Cobrapost said BJP leader and cabinet minister from Haryana, Kavita Jain, too had quoted two PANs – AASPJ1161D and ACSPJ1161D. “The first PAN, AASPJ1161D, was found non-existent,” it added.
In the case of Virbhadra Singh too, Cobrapost said while in his affidavit for 2007 elections he had quoted his PAN number as ALPRS6513N, this was replaced by another PAN ALRPS6513N in 2012. “We found his earlier PAN ALPRS6513N to be non-existent. The four-time Chief Minister, seven-time MLA and five-time member of Parliament (MP) too has been accused of laundering money to the tune of Rs 7 crore by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), with the Special Judge finding prima facie merit in the charges levelled against him by the ED,” it added.
The Cobrapost investigation also stated that these revelations assume significance since the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) was investigating 98 MLAs and 7 Lok Sabha MPs for discrepancy in their assets and declared sources of income. “Last year the CBDT apprised the Supreme Court of its investigations into the assets of 42 MLAs and 9 Rajya Sabha MPs, in response to a petition filed by NGO Lok Prahri,” it said.
Assets of 320 MPs rose over 100%, of 6 others by over 1000%
The petition had claimed that the assets of 320 MPs who were re-elected to the Lok Sabha in 2014 had grown by over 100 per cent, whereas in the case of 26 MPs it had risen by over 500% and in case of another six MPs by over 1000%.
As it was revealed that there were over 10.52 lakh “bogus” PAN cards of individual assessees in existence, the apex court had also noted that this was “not a minuscule number”. It had gone on to add: “It could harm the economy and create adverse effect on the nation.”
Quoting an observation from the CEO of Lucknow-based Lok Prahari, S.N. Shukla, in the matter, the website said: “Despite the Supreme Court refusing to institute an inquiry into the phenomenal rise in the wealth of the politicians named in the petition, the government should have taken initiative on its own to let the nation know how they all get so rich between elections if they are really serious about bringing transparency in political life of the county.”