The income tax department has started a crackdown on “suspicious” bank lockers after searches and raids revealed that these were being used to stash illegal cash and jewellery.
Tax officials were seeking details of lockers operated multiple times, especially in co-operative banks, after the government announced the recall of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes on November 8, sources said.
“Benami bank lockers are being monitored to check ownership as these have been used for illegal activities and hoarding illegal cash and wealth,” a government official said.
“However, it must be reiterated that it is aimed at addressing the black money issue and there will be no sealing of bank lockers, as we have already said.”
A benami, or ghost, locker is operated by someone other than the person in whose name it is issued. There have been instances when a holder has agreed to keep cash or jewellery for a family member, an acquaintance or even a senior at work.
Large quantities of cash – Rs 600 crore — and gold, most of it in the form of jewellery, have been seized during nation-wide raids. Undisclosed income amounting to Rs 5,343 crore has been earthed, so far.
The government said the note ban was part of its war against corruption and black money. But with more than Rs 14 trillion of the Rs 15 trillion that was scrapped back in the system, fears are that the corrupt managed to beat the system.
Gold and jewellery sales had zoomed within hours of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation announcement. Several jewellers and bullion traders have been issued I-T notices.
Most of the “suspicious” lockers, so far, have been reported from smaller towns, though such abuse couldn’t be ruled out in the cities as well, sources said.
Research, real-time information from multiple sources and information collected during raids helped them zero in on such accounts, sources in the department said.
Tax sleuths also don’t rule out the possibility of city residents using lockers in small towns to escape scrutiny. Several banks offer locker services to customers who do not hold accounts with them.
Sources said the tax department had also sought details from both private and public banks of accounts opened after November 10, the first banking day after demonetisation.
More than 6,000 notices have been sent to holders of accounts that saw suspicious transactions.
The tax department, which conducted more than 1,000 searches across the country, has referred 279 cases to the enforcement directorate while the CBI has been asked to look into 247 cases.