Linking Aadhaar to real estate deals: Why it is need of the hour to bring benami transactions to light
Immovable properties remain impervious to Aadhaar scrutiny which is why the Urban Development Minister has mooted this suggestion
Hardeep Puri, the Union Urban Development Minister has mooted a suggestion, more by way of loud thinking, that why not seed property records with Aadhaar. His view shared by many is that it would eliminate ghost owners of properties. When Aadhaar can be seeded into one’s PF account (UAN), one’s bank account, one’s mobile number and one’s permanent income account number (PAN), there is no reason why it cannot be seeded into one’s immovable property records with the concerned sub-registrar’s office.
Seeding of a mother identity document like Aadhaar makes for both speed and elimination of ghosts. Provident fund authorities are mighty pleased with the UAN initiative under which one’s unique provident fund account number, good enough to last one’s lifetime employment, contains one’s bank account details as well as Aadhaar details. Since all the three are inter-linked, claims can be processed and credited into claimant’s bank account with dispatch while at the same time ensuring that the claimant is not a ghost.
As it is, immovable properties remain impervious to Aadhaar scrutiny which makes the ebullient Minister wonder why it is so. Registrars do insist on PAN of both the seller and the buyer, thus ensuring that both are genuine given the fact that PAN is seeded into Aadhaar and vice-versa. They, also for good measure, take digital photographs of both the buyer and seller as well as their witnesses to forestall both ghosts and disputes. But what the minister seems to be worried about is the old properties remain untrammeled by these niceties. Let the government mandate linking of all immovable properties with Aadhaar by a given date a la its mandate for bank accounts and mobile phone numbers. The suggestion merits serious consideration and implementation.
Benami transactions are virulently rampant in immovable properties. Aadhaar, while eliminating ghosts, cannot eliminate benamis because 'name lenders' do the bidding of their masters and present themselves at the registrar’s office complete with Aadhaar and PAN. Whether a property is held benami can, therefore, be found only on deeper investigations as the recent experiences with the NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal and the irrepressible Lalu Yadav show. Aadhaar, in other words, is not a panacea for tax evasion and the evil of benami. Yes, it is effective in banishing ghosts and exorcising their influence.
Nevertheless, it would make sense to link one’s property with Aadhaar because old property owners would come out of the wood work to reveal themselves and if they don’t, the income tax authorities who are enforcing the benami would be justified in confiscating the properties as being held under benami.
Minister Puri’s suggestion, however, would be inadequate to nab black money parked in immovable properties through the conduit of shell companies. The government’s recent crackdown on as many as 2 lakh shell companies across the nation was as much to freeze their bank accounts as to catch the immovable properties hiding black money behind the curtains of incorporation. Banks, registrars and tax authorities must work in tandem to address the vexed issue of parking illicit wealth in faceless shell companies.
Let not the civil liberty activists raise the bogey of privacy. Aadhaar’s all-pervasive role, they say, affects an individual’s privacy. Former finance minister P Chidambaram fears that an inquisitive and voyeuristic hacker can come to know about one’s ailment through access to Aadhaar which in turn gives vivid details of one’s medical expenditure through cards. The fear can be addressed by erecting firewalls that restricts access to Aadhaar details like the US has done with reference to its Social Security Number (SSN) that comes pretty close to Aadhaar. Unique Identification Authority (UIA) can be counted upon to do this so that no voyeur can gleefully hack into one’s Aadhaar and get both salacious and serious details like a tally of one’s bank balance and other properties including immovable ones.
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