New Delhi: The recent cash van heist in Delhi has turned the focus on the thriving hawala industry that is at the core of India’s burgeoning cash economy.
The questions doing the rounds in Delhi is — how did the van belonging to Security and Intelligence Services have R22.5 crore despite the bank voucher saying only R10 crore was loaded and how come no one knew for whom the extra cash was loaded.
Axis Bank clarified it was moving R38 crore meant for its ATM machines and had requisitioned four vans owned by the SIS Group. Each van was meant to store and carry approximately R10 crore each. But the van’s driver and guard have told the police that unknown people loaded R12.5 crore. This money was not in sealed boxes. Asked about this, the bank said it had "no comments to offer".
"I am sure it a political party’s money," said veteran political commentator Mohan Guruswamy.
In fact, Bihar-based SIS is owned by Buxar-born BJP Rajya Sabha MP, RK Sinha, and handles cash transfer for the BJP regularly. Guruswamy said he was surprised that the Delhi police, Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax departments have remained silent on the extra cash.
"The amount may be small, but if a van hired by a major bank is used for such purposes, we should be genuinely alarmed," said Guruswamy.
With elections costing thousands of crores, it is common knowledge in India that transportation of cash is a major task for political parties. But observers don’t think much will come of the current case. "No answers would be forthcoming in this case, it will die its own death," said former AAP leader and lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
Bhushan said during the Bihar election, revenue intelligence agencies cracked down on ATM vans carrying black money across the state. The Election Commission seized over Rs 35 crore. These vans are usually exempted from checks as they are contracted by banks after necessary due diligence.
"Cash is loaded mid-way after the vans have been checked by bank officials. And across the country, Hawala operations have only grown bigger," said Bhushan.
As per the Washington-based Global Financial Integrity, India ranks third after Russia and China, with an estimated $94 billion illicit wealth outflows in 2012. Bhushan said bulk of it is through hawala, which he said saw a spike of several thousand crores during the 2014 elections. "A large part of the cash came through hawala and the parties are very quiet about it," said Guruswamy. "So the R12 crore or so will not cause even a whimper."