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V. International governance issues

India is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which explicitly affirms the right to privacy in Article 17. As noted previously in this report, the Human Rights Act expressly permits individuals to approach the National Human Rights Commission or any of the State Human Rights Commissions for redress of human rights infringed under this convention.

Apart from this, there are no regional conventions that deal specifically with privacy. India has signed and ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings1 and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.2 India is a signatory to the SAARC Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters as well as several bilateral treaties on mutual legal assistance. These treaties typically require signatory states to provide mutual assistance in criminal matters, including, inter alia, 'providing information, documents and records'; 'providing objects, including lending exhibits'; 'search and seizure'; 'taking evidence and obtaining statements'; etc. 3

India is a signatory to 85 agreements (81 DTAAs and 4 TIEA agreements) on exchange of tax information. For instance, India has reportedly signed four Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs) on the OECD model with the Governments of the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands and the Isle of Man4 "popular 'tax havens'. These agreements enjoin the "competent authorities" of each country to provide information "upon request" about a variety of financial details including bank records and corporate information.5 The request must be made on the basis of evidence and "fishing expeditions" are not usually permitted. These agreements include standard confidentiality clauses which require that the information only be disclosed to appropriate tax authorities for purposes of tax proceedings. They also exempt information disclosed to an attorney under attorney client privilege from being disclosed.6

In addition, India has signed a number of Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements which include information-sharing clauses. In June 2010, the Government approached the governments of 65 countries to "specifically" provide for the sharing of bank-related information.7 Pursuant to this, most notably, in June 2011, the Indian Government entered into a revised DTAA with the Swiss government, allowing India to "gain access to the details of Indians' money, which is not accounted for, stashed in Swiss banks".8 Similarly, in the same month, the government of Mauritius agreed to renegotiate its tax treaty with India. Mauritius accounts for more than 40% of total foreign direct investments (FDIs) to India most of which are suspected to be nothing more than treaty shopping arrangements to avoid paying tax.9 An OECD report on India's current DTA with Mauritius points to vast "gaps" in the treaty, including provisions requiring "disclosure of information to the persons in respect to whom information or document had been sought", and notes that Mauritius has not exchanged information over the last three years.10

These treaties seem to have resulted in some information being shared. In October 2011, Pranab Mukherjee, the Finance Minister, reported that, pursuant to these treaties, 'specific requests in 333 cases [...] have been made by Indian authorities for obtaining information from foreign jurisdictions. Over 9,900 pieces of information regarding suspicious transactions by Indian citizens from several countries have been obtained, which are now under different stages of investigation."11

Although information obtained under DTAAs cannot be used for purposes other than tax proceedings, in June 2011, the Income Tax Department announced that it would re-negotiate this clause in its agreements to enable it to share information with other law enforcement agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate.12