New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Wednesday approved the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Bill, 2015 and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 with the hope of introducing them in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament.

The benami transactions bill marks a continuation of the government’s efforts to curb black money and provides for confiscation of assets held in the name of another person or under a fictitious name to avoid taxation and to conceal illegally obtained wealth.

The return of black money held overseas by Indians was a major electoral promise of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which, since coming to power in May 2014, has enacted the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act to catch those who have undisclosed foreign assets.

The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Bill, which the government hopes will get passed in the upcoming monsoon session, is aimed at curbing domestic black money.

The bill provides for a fine of up to 25% of the fair value of the asset and imprisonment of up to seven years, unlike an earlier lapsed version of the bill, which stipulated either a fine or imprisonment.

Under the bill, the term “property" will cover movable, immovable, tangible and intangible properties. In case of joint ownership of property, the tax payer will have to show financing sources.

The bill was tabled in May last year but was subsequently referred to Parliament’s standing committee on finance. The committee submitted its report in the budget session this year and recommended a host of small changes including providing more time to allow property holders to furnish information, a time-bound process for initiating investigation and for filing appeals.

“The amendments aim to strengthen the bill in terms of legal and administrative procedure so as to overcome the practical difficulties which may arise in the implementation of the provisions of the bill when it becomes an Act. The legislation is also intended to effectively prohibit benami transactions and consequently prevent circumvention of law through unfair practices," said a government statement after the cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“However, those who declare their benami properties under income declaration scheme will get immunity under the Benami Act," it added.

Revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia said last week that the government is hopeful of getting the bill passed in the monsoon session of Parliament.

The cabinet also approved the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 for social, economic and educational empowerment of transgenders. “The bill will benefit a large number of transgender persons, mitigate the stigma, discrimination and abuse against this marginalized section and bring them into the mainstream of society. It will lead to greater inclusiveness and will make the transgender persons productive members of the society," it said.

The transgender community is one of the most marginalized in the country because they don’t fit into existing gender categories. Consequently, they face problems ranging from social exclusion to discrimination, lack of education facilities, unemployment, and lack of medical facilities.

A government statement said the bill will make all the stakeholders responsive and accountable for upholding the principles underlying the bill. “It will bring greater accountability on the part of the central government and state governments/Union Territories administrations for issues concerning transgender persons," it added.

The cabinet also approved incorporation of the Sagarmala Development Company (SDC) with a share capital of 1,000 crore and construction of new dry dock for 1,799 crore at the Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL).

The dry dock will augment India’s ship building and ship repair capacity required to tap the market potential for building specialized and technologically advanced large vessels. A government statement said there would be no financial outgo from the government on account of the construction of the new dry dock as the expenditure of 1,799 crore will be funded through the Internal and Extra Budgetary resources (IEBR) of CSL.

With the formation of the SDC, the shipping ministry will now be able to provide equity support to the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) and funding support to the residual projects under its ambitious Sagarmala Programme. It is a strategic and customer-oriented initiative of the shipping ministry to modernize India’s ports so that port-led development can be augmented and 7,500 km of coastline across 13 states can be developed to contribute in India’s growth.

The shipping ministry estimates that Sagarmala can lead to annual logistics savings of close to 35,000 crore and boost India’s merchandise exports to $110 billion by 2025. Apart from this, the Sagarmala project is estimated to create 10 million new jobs, 4 million of which will be direct employment.

The Union cabinet also approved a proposal by the Election Commission to procure new Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), including 550,000 Ballot Units and 545,000 Control Units during 2016-17. It also cleared an allocation of 25 crore for research and development efforts around EVMs. The new procurement has been cleared in order to phase out obsolete voting machines that were procured during 2000-2005.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved setting up a joint venture between Neyveli Lignite Corp. Ltd and Uttar Pradesh Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd for building a 1,980 MW thermal power plant in Uttar Pradesh.

The project, to be located at Ghatampur, will cost about 17,238 crore, the statement said.

The project to be executed by the joint venture incorporated as Neyveli Uttar Pradesh Power Ltd. will consist of three 660 MW units. The first unit will go on stream in 52 months and the entire project will be commissioned in 64 months. “The energy generated of about 14,000 million units a year will mainly be supplied to Uttar Pradesh," said the statement. The power plant will get coal from Pachwara South block in Jharkhand.

Other cabinet and CCEA decisions

—MoU signed between India and the Swiss Confederation for cooperation in skill development.

—MoU between India and Tunisia in information communication technology and digital economy.

—Establishment of the new All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Gorakhpur.

—Signing of Air Services Agreement between India and Mozambique.

—Procurement of Control Units, Ballot Units and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail Units during 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Anuja and Gireesh Chandra Prasad contributed to this story.

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