Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance, 2018: Will It Work?

“India seeks help from the UK for the extradition of Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi.”

“Nirav Modi’s passport revoked; he continues to travel between countries freely.”

“Vijay Mallya defiantly asks the Indian government if it wants him to repay the public sector banks or not. He claims that the Central Bureau of Investigation charges have no merit.”

Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Christian Michel, Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, and the list goes on… What do these people have in common apart from crores of rupees in their bank accounts that don’t rightfully belong to them? They all have escaped the country and are making a mockery of the numerous summons made to them.

It’s ironic that on one hand people get to read of scams of such gigantic scale, while on the other there are numerous news items of farmers committing suicide just because they could not pay back a few thousand rupees of their debt. Is this really fair?

The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in March 2018 to control this menace. It gives the authorities powers to attach and confiscate properties of economic offenders like loan defaulters who have fled the country. It aims to deter economic offenders from evading the process of Indian law by crossing the boundaries of the country.

In April 2018, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to promulgation of the Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance, 2018.

Does this mean that people like Nirav Modi, who despite their passports being revoked, would not continue hopping countries? Does this mean that these people would stop holidaying abroad and return to India? Does this mean their loans would be paid off? Does this mean that banks like Punjab National Bank can breathe easy? Does this mean that the common man, who is hounded if he defaults even on one loan instalment of a few thousand rupees, would be assured that his money is safe with the banks? Does this mean that the government has enough powers to stop such loan defaults in future? Does this mean that the rich and powerful would stop committing such economic crimes? Nothing can be said with certainty.

Even though the task ahead for the government would not be easy even with the help of the Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance, 2018, one is getting to see changed headlines, which is a respite.

“Because of the Ordinance, Mallya is supposed to be present before the court on 27 August 2018, failing which all his India assets worth Rs. 12,500 crores would be confiscated.”

“Special court summons Vijay Mallya on August 27, 2018 under Fugitive Offenders Ordinance”

“ED moves special court seeking fugitive economic offender tag against Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi in PNB fraud case”

The government has made a good start by summoning Vijay Mallya under the Ordinance. However, if the government is serious, really serious, about curbing this menace at the root, then it is very important that the government and the special court set strict deadlines and stick to them. Even more importantly, the government needs to be impartial; have the same rule irrespective of political affiliations. This may be difficult to implement, especially because of the political ramifications, but the real test lies in this and not just passing the Bill.

As they say, we shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us. Let’s see how the government shapes itself up with the much-awaited tool called the Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance, 2018. Will this be a game-changer or just another political ploy? We will know soon. 27 August, 2018 – the first such deadline – is just a month away!

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About the Author: Shobhika Puri

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