New Delhi: The Parliament Wednesday passed the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018, that provides for measures to deter absconding economic outlaws from evading prosecution by staying outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts.
The Rajya Sabha nod for the Bill completes its passage to a law, as the Lok Sabha had already passed the Bill last week.
The Bill says a person can be declared a fugitive economic offender (FEO) if an arrest warrant has been issued against him for an offence where the value involved is over `100 crore, and he has left the country and refuses to return to face prosecution. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) will be the implementing and executing agency for this law.
To declare a person an FEO, an application containing details of the properties to be confiscated and the offender’s whereabouts will be filed in a special court by the ED Director. The special courts will be designated under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 and would be “like exclusive courts”, according to Finance Minister Piyush Goyal.
The special court will require the person to appear before it within six weeks from issue of notice.
While the Bill allows authorities to provisionally attach properties of an accused, during the pendency of application before the special court, the proceedings will be terminated if the person appears before a court. Then he would be tried as per the existing laws.
If the person fails to attend, s/he would be declared an FEO and proceedings to confiscate their property/assets would be initiated.
However, the special court may exempt properties where certain persons may have an interest, such as secured creditors.
Further, the FEO or any company associated with him may be barred from filing or defending civil claims.
In his reply to the debate, Goyal said this provision was kept to prevent the offenders from scuttling legal proceedings through their proxies posing as minority shareholders.
He said some things have been left to the courts’ discretion.
On an objection raised by a few members over the authorities not being required to obtain a search warrant or ensure presence of at least two witnesses before a search under the Bill, Goyal said proper safeguards and cautions have been provided under the Bill.
These include the officer mentioning in writing the reason for searches and ensuring the presence of at least two witnesses.
“We have not created any new offence under the Bill. One of the objectives of this Bill is deterrence and the other is to instil fear in the fugitive offenders’ minds that they may be stopped from enjoying their ill-gotten wealth and to force them to return,” the Minister said.
On the doubt raised by some members during the three-hour discussion that the Bill may not stand judicial scrutiny, Goyal cited a Supreme Court order of 2016 that has said that the government can rightfully deprive a person of enjoying his wealth if it is found that the assets/property is ill-gotten.
As some members raised the question of propriety of government seizing property of a person without his conviction, the Minister said the government sought to seize property of a person who has fled the country and refuses to return. But once he returns in designated time, he would be subjected to the regular laws, he added.
The upper house passed the Bill with a voice vote, rejecting a few amendments moved by CPI-M member Elamaram Kareem.
As Congress members claimed they did not get a copy of the amendments, Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu said he would order an inquiry into the matter because as per the Rajya Sabha table office, the said amendments were provided to all the MPs on July 24.
Govt slammed for cold chain disparity
A Parliamentary panel Wednesday pulled up the government for regional imbalance in sanctioning of cold chain projects as most of them are located in states such as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Punjab. The panel also suggested the government to enhance subsidy for entrepreneurs for setting up of cold chain infrastructure in rural areas. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture made the above observation in a report that reviewed actions taken by the government on recommendations made by the committee in 2016-17 with regard to a scheme on integrated cold chain and value addition infrastructure. In its report placed before Parliament today, the committee chairperson Hukmdev Narayan Yadav said, “There is regional imbalance in sanctioning of cold chain projects…” Major chunks of projects are in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Uttarakhand, while states such as Bihar, Odisha, Telangana,Chattisgarh have been “neglected”. “The committee feels that this imbalance should be removed,” Yadav said and suggested that the food processing minisrtry should publicise the scheme in print and electronic media to increase awareness.
Textile, clothing exports marginally up
Textile and clothing sector exports have increased marginally to $39.2 billion in 2017-18 from $39 billion in the previous fiscal, Parliament was informed today. On the other hand India’s imports of textile and apparel have increased by 17 per cent from $ 6.3 billion in 2016-17 to $ 7.3 billion in 2017-18, Minister of State for Textiles Ajay Tamta said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha. He said that government has increased customs duty on different types of fabric, apparel, made-ups and carpets from 10 per cent to 20 per cent to curb textile and apparel imports in the country. In a separate reply, he said that the Cotton Advisory Board (CAB) has estimated the cotton production for the current cotton season 2017-18 (October 2017 to September 2018) at 370 lakh bales. “From October 2017 to April 2018, the total amount of cotton exported from India was 51.21 lakh bales,” he said adding CAB has estimated that during the current cotton season 2017-18, the export of cotton is likely to increase by 20 per cent over last year and is expected to touch 70 lakh bales by September this year. “Domestic prices of cotton are ruling below the international cotton prices,” he added.
SEZ land lying vacant: ComMin
About half of the land out of 45,711 hectares notified for 373 special economic zones (SEZs) are lying vacant as on August 2017, Parliament was informed Wednesday. The vacant land is primarily with private sector or state public sector unit developers, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry C R Chaudhary said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha. He said that the land development and allotment of units by the developers are done based on the demand and market conditions. “Out of total notified area of 45,711.64 hectares in respect of 373 notified SEZs, 23,779.19 hectares are lying vacant in these SEZs as on 30.08.2017,” he added. He also said that at present 223 SEZs are operational and 150 are non-operational in the country. Replying to a separate question, he said that Comptroller and Auditor General of India in a report of 2014 observed that there were gaps in the projections about employment, investment and export from SEZs. Those observations “were based on the performance of SEZs in the initial 5 – 6 years from the enactment of SEZ Act, 2005,” he said. The minister said that SEZs are essentially industrial infrastructure with long gestation period. “However, significant growth has been registered in terms of employment, investment and export from SEZs thereafter,” the minister added. In 2017-18, exports from SEZs increased to `5.81 lakh crore from `5.23 lakh crore in the previous fiscal.