Rajya Sabha today saw animated discussion on the Finance Bill 2017. Opposition members criticised the government for moving 40 amendments as part of the bill that covered disparate subjects like merging of tribunals and issue of political funding in the bill as it was brought as money bill leaving no scope for Rajya Sabha to discuss and vote on the amendments.
Responding to members’ queries on farm loan waiver for Uttar Pradesh farmers, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said there is no provision to discriminate among the states on such issues.
Finance Minister admitted that credit off take was low due to slow down in global economy.
Finance Minister also allayed the concerns of membes on the tax rate on food items under the GST. He said that food items and other such items of daily consumption will attract no tax under the GST.
Participating in the debate, Congress member and former telecom minister Kapil Sibal said the issue of political funding was part of electoral reforms and by bringing it as a part of the Finance Bill the government was trying to avoid a discussion on the subject in the upper house.
Referring to the provision putting a maximum limit of Rs 2000 on cash contributions to political parties, Sibal said this issue fell in the domain of electoral reforms, but has been made part of a money bill, as the government does not want the Rajya Sabha to have a say.
Sibal also accused the government of giving “unbridled power” to tax authorities through the provisions of the Finance Bill, saying the tax authorities can now carry out search or seizure without divulging the “reason to believe” to the assessee.
He said the political opponents could be targeted through this provision and they may not get respite from any appellate body and possibly even from the higher courts. “And you will have a field day,” the Congress leader said.
He claimed that the government had sought to create “an atmosphere of fear” in the minds of business people as Income Tax officers will now not need to disclose the reason to suspect. “Is this the transparency, accountabiliy or ‘acche din’ (good days) you had promised,” Sibal asked.
The Finance Bill has also sought to merge several tribunals like the AERA with TDSAT which was a matter of policy. And the government, by including it in the Finance Bill, was evading Rajya Sabha, he said, adding it was brought in the Lok Sabha too at the last minute to avoid debate.
He also alleged that the government was trying to appropriate the powers of judiciary by keeping the rights of appointments to these tribunals.
Sibal, a senior lawyer, said another provision related to granting powers to IT officers to carry out raids and attach assets for six months as provisional attachment, alleging that these provisions were “only meant to exploit businesses and extort money.”
Through yet another provision in the Finance Bill, the government has brought in a provision that surveys could be carried out on charitable institutions, which could also be used to harass political opponents.
He said the government was trying to foist all these changes through the Finance Bill in the Rajya Sabha so that there is no debate on them.
Questioning the linking of Aadhaar with tax filing, Sibal said even the Supreme Court had said that Aadhar was not mandatory, but the government does not seem to be bothered about it. “The only explanation for such things could be the arrogance of power,” he claimed.
He said that while Aadhaar was aimed at ensuring that the targeted subsidies reach the beneficiaries. But now it appears that it could be used to access all information about an individual. “We are not living in a police state,” he said.
Cautioning the government for not agreeing to farm loan waivers for all states, the SP member said if this happens, there would be protests in other big states also like Maharashtra as there have been many instances of farmers’ suicide in other provinces.
He also lamented that the government was doing enough for MGNREGA and should do something constructive to create employment in the country.
Countering the allegations of the opposition, BJP’s Bhupender Yadav said the government has brought Bankruptcy and Insolvency bill, which the other parties ruling for decades could not do.
He also spoke of the government’s announcement for spending Rs 20,000 crore on irrigation, saying only 46 per cent of land is irrigated in the country.
He also commended the government decision on demonetisation and the steps to encourage digital payments for bringing in transparency in the system.
Sukhendu Shekhar Roy (TMC) said the government was doing a “bypass surgery of legislative process” by bringing in various non-finance matters in the garb of the Finance Bill.
Attacking the government over the proposed amendments listed under the Finance Bill, he said it reflected the “totalitarian attitude” of the ruling party.
Speaking on amendments, he said enormous power were being given to the IT department, while the appellate system was being curtailed. “Unflinching power is being given to the income tax authorities..this is the situation…shameful situation,” Roy said.
For the last 70 years, no such provisions were allowed but now due to the “whims and fancies” of the ruling party, such powers is being given to the IT department, he said, adding “I condemn it. I oppose it.”
“Earlier it used to be inspector Raj and now it will be raid-seize-attach raj,” he said. He also termed the amendment to merge various tribunals as “unimaginable”.
Terming the Finance Bill as “finance bully”, Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said it has also been cleared by the Lok Sabha “in a hurry”.
“By smuggling in non-financial matters in the Finance Bill, the government is undermining the entire Constitution,” the CPI(M) leader said.
Yechury said there have been references to Goebbels and Himmler, but the current government had put “all of them to shame” in the way they were undermining the parliamentary system. “This bill should be rejected and sent back to Lok Sabha for a relook. All non tax matters should be deleted.”
He said making Aadhaar card mandatory was a violation of fundamental right of privacy. “What are you reducing this Republic of India to,” he asked, as he opposed the amendments to alter the Companies Act and merger of various tribunals.
Satish Chandra Misra (BSP) said various amendments proposed under the Finance Bill should have been brought separately so that the members could have discussed in issues in detail. He agreed with Yechury and said the Finance Bill should be sent back to the Lok Sabha for reconsideration.
(With inputs from agencies).