This was in response to a RTI (Right to Information) query. The Union finance ministry refused to disclose black money-related information received from other countries and also refused to divulge details of Indian Swiss bank accounts. According to the FM, such disclosures are prohibited under “confidentiality provisions” of a tax treaty signed between the two countries. Ms. Sitharaman has clarified that the information exchanged under such tax agreements were covered under confidentiality clauses of the respective agreements.

In fact, there is a provision for holding back such information in the RTI Act itself. Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act prohibits disclosure of information that can prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, its security, strategic, scientific or economic interests vis-à-vis a foreign state. It may be recollected that in 2017 India and Switzerland had signed the Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (MAATM) which enables the two countries to automatically exchange financial data.

Under the current RTI regulations, the government has the final discretion to decide what need not be disclosed to the public in the larger interests of the nation. However, the government have a larger question to ponder about. When the government came to power in 2014, one of the big promises made was that they would clamp down on money stashed away in tax havens and bring it back to India. However, according to data put out by the Swiss National Bank (SNB) in its annual report; money kept by Indians in Swiss banks rose over 50% to SFR1.01 billion (Rs.6,974 crore) in 2017. That is surely cause for concern.