Jan Dhan accounts weren’t intrinsically misuse-prone; P Chidambaram’s rant ignores past indulgences

Senior Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram has railed against the Narendra Modi government’s Jan Dhan initiative on several counts calling it a jumla and 'an exercise in self-deception'.

Chidambaram said the UPA government initiated it albeit under a different name i.e. 'no frills account' or 'zero balance account' and as many as 11,80,000 Jan Dhan accounts with over Rs 1 lakh so-called savings were parked in United Bank of India alone. He also said that till May 2014 as many as 25 crore no-frills accounts were opened under the UPA government’s watch whereas the Modi government has had a poor track record with as many as 6.1 crore Jan Dhan accounts --- or one out of five - were "inactive" and 33 percent of accounts were opened by persons who already had an account in their names.

The unkindest cut was it is now, according to him, common knowledge that the Jan Dhan accounts were used to launder money after demonetisation. A humongous sum of Rs 42,187 crore was deposited in Jan Dhan accounts between 8 November 2016 and 30 December 2016."

If four out of five Jan Dhan accounts are inactive and the bulk of them are for money laundering then how can the no-frills accounts opened under Chidambaram's UPA government smell of roses? This is squeamishness at its worst. Modi has an enviable track record of quick and targeted implementation. He exhibited this in Gujarat while he was the chief minister as well as in the rollout of Goods and Services Tax (GST). He achieved envious targets with Jan Dhan also which Chidambaram trashes as dubious accounts in a manner of alleging sour grapes. The only sensible thing he has averred is suspicious deposits of demonetised notes must be probed and the benami account holders, as well as the crooks must be punished. That exercise is still a work in progress.

 Jan Dhan accounts weren’t intrinsically misuse-prone; P Chidambaram’s rant ignores past indulgences

File photo of senior Congress leader P Chidambaram. AFP

Modi and indeed the earlier Vajpayee government have displayed the courage to soldier on. Vajpayee went ahead with the testing of hydrogen bombs when his predecessor Narasimha Rao was vacillating. It is the implementation to execute and roll out on a war-footing that marks a true leader from the also-rans.

If Jan Dhan accounts have lent themselves to abuse, it is the fault of the crooks but the system should identify them. There is no point blaming Jan Dhan or no-frills accounts. They weren’t innately prone to misuse unlike the schemes brought in by the Congress governments in the past.

All the tax amnesty schemes were to indulge crooks as evident from the last-opportunity-to-come-to-the-path-of-rectitude rhetoric accompanying successive schemes and the same persons participating in successive schemes as bemoaned and flagged out by the Wanchoo committee of the yore. Likewise, the Liberalized Remittance Scheme (LRS) ushered in by the UPA government in 2004 was an invitation to crooks. Permission to remit  $2, 50,000 per year for every person has been tantalizing crooks to park their illegitimate money in foreign shores.

It was the UPA government, particularly the Congress, that was dragging its feet on implementing the Benami Transactions Prohibition Act of 1988 vintage till the Modi government belled the cat in 2016 by appointing the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) as the nodal agency to seize and confiscate properties held benami. And the results are showing.

Stark results will show when the crooks depositing demonetised notes into Jan Dhan and other seemingly innocuous accounts are called to account. The Modi government must fire on all four cylinders and nail them as quickly as possible if only to prove that demonetisation was a massive crackdown on black money and that anything that goes into the banking system is not automatically exorcised and becomes legit.

(The author is a senior columnist and tweets @smurlidharan)

Updated Date: Nov 02, 2018 09:57:47 IST