Government embarrassed as Rajya Sabha returns Finance bill with amendments
The Narendra Modi government on Wednesday faced embarrassment in the Rajya Sabha as five of the amendments moved by the opposition to the Finance Bill, 2017, were adopted by division before the bill was returned to the Lok Sabha.
The Bill, which was passed by Lok Sabha last week, was moved for passage in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.
The upper house discussed the bill for over five hours spread across two days with the Congress and other opposition parties taking exception to several provisions of the Finance Bill, stating that the government had sought to amend 40 laws in one go.
Congress member Digvijaya Singh moved amendments to three clauses of the Bil and these were adopted after division, to the discomfiture of the treasury benches.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury also moved two amendments which were also adopted after division.
The BJP-led government does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha.
During the discussion on the Bill, the opposition accused the government of “smuggling in” provisions to bypass the Rajya Sabha as the upper house has limited powers on money bills.
Congress member Kapil Sibal, who initiated the debate on the Bill, said that some provisions in the bill tend to weaken the federal structure of the country, will allow the government to snoop on citizens and instil fear among the business community.
Sibal also said the bill gives “unbridled powers” to the taxman and he can conduct “search and seizure” at any premises without assigning any reason for the same to a superior authority.
Yechury strongly objected to the provision in the Bill about use of Aadhaar for filing income tax returns (ITR).
“Why are you saying today that Aadhaar is required for me to file my ITR? Why do I have my PAN card at all then?” he asked, adding that if the government wants to make Aadhaar compulsory, it should bring a straightforward bill saying as much.
Congress leader and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said that if “Pentagon can be hacked, how will you (government) protect hacking of income tax and bank accounts through Aadhaar?”
The opposition members also expressed concern over the “removal of the cap” on corporate funding to the political parties in the name of electoral reforms.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Satish Chandra Misra said that the provision of political funding was designed to benefit only the ruling party.
“Individuals giving more than Rs 2,000 have to disclose their identity, but corporate houses giving Rs 20 crore are not required to disclose any details under the proposed law,” he said.
Members also raised concerns over the winding up of several tribunals and the government “single-handedly appointing chairpersons of tribunals deciding business disputes”
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, while responding to the debate on the Bill, said that some of the remarks of opposition leaders were “exaggerated”.
He clarified that appointments of judges or retired judges in Appellate Tribunals will be made in consultation with the Chief Justice, as has been the established practice.
Jaitley also brushed aside the opposition’s fears that linking income tax returns and bank accounts with Aadhaar may be unsafe.
“If firewalls can be broken, and hacking can be done, it will be done whether Aadhaar is there or not. I think Pentagon got hacked without Aadhaar being there. If technology can be breached, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use technology,” he said.
He said that the provision of Aadhaar to be furnished while filing income tax returns is meant to eliminate the possibility of tax fraud and of possessing multiple PAN cards.
The Bill was returned to the Lok Sabha that will consider the amendments moved by the upper House.
As per the provisions of article 109 of the Constitution, the Rajya Sabha has limited powers with respect to money bills, with the Lok Sabha free to either accept or reject all or any of its recommendations.
If the Lok Sabha does not accept any of the recommendations, the money bill is deemed to have been passed by both Houses in the form in which it was passed by the lower house.
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