Soon, defaulters on no-fly list: Narendra Modi govt's public pronouncement defeats purpose, casts shadow on sincerity

It seems 91 is the magic number. In 2015, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) issued a list of 91 companies with the advisory that, as of now, they should not be invested in. There was a message in there. And they had been so named. On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that 91 individuals may soon be placed on the no-fly list so that they cannot escape their loans and debts and take off for foreign climes to share a supper with Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi. Except they have not been named.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AP

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AP

The story broke hard and then melted away in a day last week without gaining traction at any level. It should have been the third spear in the fiscal trident with demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax. When it was announced it sounded very impressive, but there were some obvious loopholes that turned the announcement into Swiss cheese.

For one: Why this odd figure? Why not 90 or 100? After all, there have to be more fiscal renegades in the country. The specific number indicates the list is ready if not publicly disclosed.

Which means that a plural number of politicians besides Parliament, support staff and bureaucrats know who is on the half-baked list or at least its rough draft.

It also means that for it to work it will be given to all the airlines and airports, seaports and private flights. Check-in and immigration screens will have a flag. Maybe the message will not go to the underground in human trafficking because we have yet to admit that it exists.

The chances of the 91 having been forewarned are enormous. As of now, the first 500 (or many more) major defaulters must already be trawling the waters of government and alerting their network of contacts to find out if they are on this bloody list. One must ask if the operative phrase is willful default, then what is the quantum of the willfulness in the refusal to return the loan?

Surely, if this was as serious as it should be the initiative to block the take-offs would have occurred sometime after midnight one night such as with the demonetisation announcement. While detractors might insist that reducing the currency notes to tissue paper was a bad idea and did not pay dividends, the fact is that where the timing was concerned it was perfect.

In comparison, this premature public statement of intent makes one wonder if the government is serious. What was the point of the happy warning by announcing something that now gives the 91 or 910 or 9,910 the opportunity to obfuscate matters and find escape routes?

Also, how good is it in law — without the promulgation of an ordinance — that in very clear terms gives the parameters of the eligibility to place one on this dubious honours list and, more importantly, what is the cutoff sum for which that party is in hock?

After all, how many thousands of individuals have loans that are now outstanding? If the cut-off is made then what of those who have lesser loans by lesser margins? It is not enough to say there will be more lists. That will not wash. Just like it happened with the overnight killing of the Rs 1,000 note and what followed, major sums can be splintered through submissive surrogates with a little bit of co-operation from the banks and some dexterous paperwork.

Will the banks co-operate? If history is an indicator, they will be slavering at the leash and coming up with ideas if it means getting their money back. You would have to be as naïve as a sunflower (and as sunny) to conclude bankers do not collude. It is their bread and butter.

Especially since the flight of canaries singing who did what to whom would have their names in the lyrics.

Did I say flight?

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Updated Date: Mar 25, 2018 20:39:27 IST

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