Indo-Swiss tax treaty talks pushed forward

In an indication that the government may be serious about tracking down slush funds stashed in Swiss banks, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee indicated on Friday that India and Switzerland have advanced the date of their talks on amending the taxation treaty by a month to the second week of November.

The discussions on renegotiating the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA), which comes in the wake of India seeking details of the black money stashed in Swiss banks, was earlier scheduled to be held in December.

"Exact date, I don't remember. I was told it (the talks on taxation treaty) has been advanced ... it may be 10 or 11 November. Earlier, it was 10-11 December," Mukherjee told the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi. He asserted that the government was "genuinely serious" about amending the treaty.

Regarding the amount of unaccounted money parked in Swiss banks, the finance minister said the government had made only one estimate, way back in 1985. "Thereafter, they (government) did not make any effort but there are some well-documented studies by experts, professors, and those figures are available," Mukherjee said.

Delhi-based think tank National Institute of Public Finance and Policy had made an estimate of the black money in circulation in the country. In 1983-84, the amount was between Rs31,584 crore and Rs36,786 crore.

Mukherjee further said the government has prepared a list of countries with which it would sign tax information exchange agreements. A model of the agreement is in the last stage of finalisation. The Income Tax Act, 1961 has been amended through the Finance Act 2009, with a new formulation to enable the government to enter into fresh agreements with other countries.