HYDERABAD: The Income-Tax (I-T) Department is increasingly using electronic surveillance and phone tapping to detect unaccounted money and zero in on tax evaders. Since the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on November 8, the Union Ministry of Finance has been prodding I-T officials to increase electronic surveillance.
This has led to some big catches already. That was how IT officials zeroed in on over Rs 4 crore in hot new currency in Bengaluru on Thursday. Last month, I-T officials knocked on the door of a construction company in Bengaluru and surprised the management with transcripts of real-time conversations and messages relating to off-the-table deals. Taken aback, the owners coughed up undisclosed income to the tune of `90 crore. In Hyderabad too, some wealthy individuals, including politicians, were stumped by how much the tax officials knew about their finances.
Top sources in the I-T Department confirmed the increasing use of electronic surveillance -- mainly phone tapping - at the urging of the Finance Ministry. Until Nov. 8, the department used to depend mainly on market intelligence from the MoF’s Financial Investigation Unit (FIU) and its own informer network. Although it has access to electronic surveillance technology since 2006, it is only now that taxmen are making optimum use of it. The New Indian Express source said two messages have been received since Nov. 8 urging the director-general (investigation) in the states to step up electronic vigilance on hawala operators and black money dealers.
While the gadgetry was available, previous governments did not give a free hand on its use, fearing leakage of information. Plus a shortage of manpower hindered the use of the technology. “Since the Niira Radia case in which her conversations with well-known people were leaked, the IT department has been wary of using surveillance technology. But now, we have the staff and a free hand,’’ a senior IT official said. In Hyderabad, information gleaned from phone taps led to two searches last month. One of them was into the accounts of the makers of the film Bahubali 2. Though no significant cash seizure was made, officials came across documents attesting to the sale of rights for `380 crore, the source said.