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Cuttack(Odisha), May 28 :

In his long stint as a judge- first in the Odisha High Court, then as chief justice of Kerala High Court and Delhi High Court, and finally as a Supreme Court judge, Justice Arijit Pasayat has adjudicated in many high profile cases. But his most challenging assignment yet has come his way well after he retired as a judge of the apex court. Given the complexities and the international dimensions of the case, the just appointed vice chairman of the Special Investigation Team (SIT), formed by the Narendra Modi government on its very first day at office, to probe all dimensions of the issue of black money has his task cut out.

Justice Arijit Pasayat
Justice Arijit Pasayat

Justice Pasayat is the first to admit to the enormity of the task.

In this exclusive interview with Chinmaya Dehury of odishasuntimes.com, he talks about the challenges involved in the assignment, the intricate architecture of the whole network of black money operations and the international dimensions of the probe.

Excerpts:

Odisha Sun Times: You have just been appointed vice-chairman of the SIT constituted by the Narendra Modi government under the orders of the Supreme Court to inquire into the entire gamut of issues related to black money. How do you take this new assignment?

Justice Arijit Pasayat: Before going into how I view this task, let me do a recap of how this SIT came about. The formation of the SIT – and, by extension, my appointment as its vice chairman – is pursuant to an order passed by the Supreme Court of India in May 2011. In July 2011, the court had directed the setting up of the SIT. But it did not materialise for a long time for some reason. Finally, on May 1 this year, the court reiterated its order and asked the Union government to form the SIT in four weeks’ time. This was the order that the new government has complied with by setting up the SIT at its first cabinet meeting.

As for my role in the probe, it goes without saying that it will be a highly challenging task because black money, as you know, is a highly sensitive issue that has the potential to ruffle many feathers.

Black money is essentially concealed income or undisclosed income, which has a direct impact on the economy of India. If the government does not get what is legitimately due to it by way of taxes, it has obvious ramifications for the economy as a whole. Over the years, the question of black money has been haunting the government. When black money is generated anywhere by a citizen of India, the country is deprived of the use of that amount, which should have ideally come to it and utilised for a whole lot of government schemes and programmes.

The SIT has been set up to locate and recover the money illegally stashed outside. If it is brought back, it will be utilised for the benefit of the country. It is no doubt going to be very challenging task for us considering the international ramifications and the tax avoidance agreements signed with various countries. But we will do the best we can to justify the confidence that the honourable Supreme Court has reposed on us. If we don’t, we will let down not just the apex court, but the people of the country as a whole.

OST: How easy or difficult it is going to be for the team to do what it has been assigned to do?

JAP: Justice Shah and I worked together in the Supreme Court for about two years before he retired sometime in 2003. He is a very competent and qualified person and has an illustrious career as a judge. And since I have already worked with him, I don’t think there would be any problem working as a team. In the final analysis, though, individuals don’t matter. Let us take the example of cricket. The captain may be an outstanding player himself, but how the team performs ultimately depends on how well the team plays under him. The captain himself may not be able to pull the team out of trouble every time. We will try and work in close coordination to meet the expectations of the honourable court and the people of the country.

Justice Arijit Pasayat
Justice Arijit Pasayat

OST: Going by available evidence, many of those who have stashed away ill got money are powerful politicians and influential corporate honchos. How confident are you about bringing such people to book?

JAP: When the ultimate objective is the welfare of the country, how big a person is hardly matters. You see in the court, we judges have to deal with some very high profile cases involving top politicians and the corporate houses. How does it matter? Nobody is above the law. If anybody is found guilty of any activity which has resulted in generation of black money, I can assure you he or she will not be spared. That will be our objective. Otherwise, how do you justify the confidence the largest democracy and the largest judicial body has reposed on us. I have been part of that institution for eight years and I know what it means.

OST: Does that mean that whoever comes within the ambit, be it a powerful politician or any bigwig, will not be spared?

JAP: Whoever comes within its ambit…we will not look at who he is or what mask he wears, he will not be spared. Our ultimate objective is to unearth the black money stashed outside and get it back to India for the welfare of the people and we will do it no matter what it takes. There should not be any doubt – even a shadow of doubt – that we will not look at anybody’s face during the inquiry.

OST: Since the probe would obviously involve many countries, does it not make it very difficult to get the black money back?

JAP: I am under no illusion that it will be an easy job. Had it been an easy job, it could have been achieved much earlier and there would have been no need for the setting up of an SIT. The task is so challenging, so daunting….ultimately the Supreme Court had to intervene. The new government took the decision really fast. I must say this is a path breaking decision that shows its commitment to transparency. Successive governments have been trying to do it, but it was left to this new government to do it. The decision taken on the orders of the Supreme Court is certainly a welcome step.

OST: Is there any time frame to complete the probe?

JAP: It’s very difficult to lay down a timeframe for this kind of job. Considering the importance of the case, it will be our effort to do it as early as possible. There should not be any time constraint for it; but at the same time any laxity or any lethargy would be counter-productive. So, we will try our best to complete the process as soon as possible.

OST: Sir, with the involvement of various agencies in the team to probe the matter, don’t you think it will prolong the probe?

JAP: Once we draw up a blueprint on how to go about it, necessary follow up has to be worked out. That will be decided when we meet. We will discuss what would be our objective and what should be the modalities to achieve it. We will work it out.

OST: When will the probe start?

JAP: I came to know about it only through the news on television channels and newspapers. The matter will be discussed threadbare by the team once I reach Delhi.