Investigative website Cobrapost on Thursday claimed that 194 Indian legislators, including six former chief ministers and 10 sitting ministers, across the country submitted fake Permanent Account Number, or PAN, details to the Election Commission. The PAN is a unique, 10-character alphanumeric marker that is used to identify individuals, families and corporate groups that pay income tax.
The website studied poll affidavits filed by the politicians between 2006 and 2016 and the data on the website of the Income Tax Department. It found that the Election Commission does not verify the PAN details that candidates disclose in their affidavits, and either of the two different numbers submitted by them does not exist.
Some of the politicians identified by the website are former Assam Chief Ministers Tarun Gogoi and Bhumidhar Barman, former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Virbhadra Singh. A number of current state leaders – including Rajasthan minister Bina Kak, Bihar Cabinet minister Nand Kishore Yadav, Maharashtra’s Minister for Public Works Department Deshmukh Vijaykumar and Haryana Minister for Women and Child Development Kavita Jain – have also been identified.
Of the 194 lawmakers, 72 are from the Congress and 41 are from the Bharatiya Janata Pary. The list also features leaders from the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Janata Dal (United), the Nationalist Congress Party and the Hindustani Awami Morcha.
“As our analysis reveals, there appears a direct correlation between the false disclosures and the growth in the income levels of many politicians, sometimes jumping manifold between two elections, while their tax disclosures have become weaker, hiding more than they reveal,” Cobrapost said. Duplicate PAN cards are often used to evade tax, seek fresh credit and launder illicit gains to shell companies, the website quoted an unidentified senior Income Tax Department official as saying.
Cobrapost said it has not claimed that all the 194 politicians misrepresented their PAN details deliberately. “Maybe out of human error there have been some erroneous entries, but it is hard to believe that all of them would have done so,” it added.
The investigation comes almost a year after the Central Board of Direct Taxes told the Supreme Court that it was conducting inquiries into a significant increase in the assets of seven Lok Sabha MPs and 98 state legislators across the country and discrepancies in the details they provided. The tax body made the remark after perusing a list that a non-governmental organisation called Lok Prahari had provided.