New Delhi, March 29: Just six days ago, citizens of this country watched in shock and horror as the Finance Bill, 2017 was passed in the midst of a walk out by the Opposition in Lok Sabha. In introducing the bill as a Money Bill, the Government has continued the abuse of process where vital debates on the controversial Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Bill, 2016 were avoided by tabling it as a ‘Money Bill’. The massive 92-page document of the Finance Bill, 2017 includes 40 amendments to a number of Acts. These amendments have far reaching consequences for not only several significant laws but the very nature of Indian democracy and constitution.
Following this abuse of process and avoidance of scrutiny, more than 175 persons from across civil society have written to the Vice President of India. Signatories include Fali Nariman, Prabhat Patnaik, Aruna Roy, Zoya Hasan, Medha Patkar, Jayati Ghosh, Swami Agnivesh, Usha Ramanathan, Bezwada Wilson, TM Krishna, Nandita Das, etc.
The letter asks the Vice President to “allow extensive and uninterrupted discussions into every aspect of the Bill No. 12-C of 2017 in the Upper House and put all these on record and do everything else in your power to ensure that the practice of by-passing important Bills by illegitimately classifying them as Money Bills is immediately stopped.”
As per this Bill, the Aadhaar card will be mandatory to file income-tax returns from July 1. The legislation also makes the unique ID compulsory to apply for a permanent account number (PAN). Speaking on the subversion of the parliamentary process in this manner, Aruna Roy of MKSS said, “In deliberate and shocking perversion of legislative procedures, the Finance Bill goes much beyond its limits to destroy basic democratic and fundamental rights.”
The Finance Bill includes amendments to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, Companies Act, Employees Provident Fund Act, Information Technology Act, Smuggling and Foreign Exchange Act etc. It also allows funding of political parties to become even more opaque, increasing the potential for corruption.
Jagdeep Chhokar of the Association for Democratic Reforms stated that amending forty pieces of legislation through the Finance Bill, 2017, without application of mind of the Rajya Sabha, runs completely against the spirit of the Indian Constitution. Speaking on the proposed amendments related with political funding, he said, “Allowing electoral bonds on the donor’s side and removing the name of the recipient brings in complete opacity in political funding. This must be critically examined.”
Well-known Economist Jayati Ghosh stated that “The Bill contains several provisions that will drastically increase “black money” and corruption. While the Government and the Speaker have ignored the concerns raised by the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, it has become a duty to speak out and raise concerns following the passage of a Bill that has in one fell swoop affected so many multiple rights that we normally take for granted.”
Some of the signatories have asked for an appointment to meet the Vice President and present the letter and their concerns in person. An online petition has also been put up to garner more support on this issue. Copies of the letter were sent to members of the Opposition and the Rajya Sabha from different parties with the hope that a resolution might be moved stating that this bill cannot and should not be considered a money bill.
Shri Hamid Ansari
Chairperson, Rajya Sabha,
Dear Hon’ble Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha,
As concerned citizens of India, we are appalled and dismayed at the Government’s use of Money Bills to push through important legislation that affects all citizens, without requiring approval by both houses of Parliament.
This undemocratic strategy has already been employed in the case of the Aadhaar Bill, even though it contains many provisions that go well beyond is-sues relating to taxation and money appropriations of the government, which will directly affect every citizen of the country in numerous ways. Despite the fact the millions of citizens will be denied their rights because of this, the Bill makes access to many essential and other public services contingent on Aadhaar. It is already evident that making it compulsory in food distribution in some states has excluded many needy and deserving citizens without cause.The Bill allows for unprecedented surveillance of every citizen and massive invasion of privacy. These can be used by governments at different levels to target political opponents and dissidents, as well as others. Because it enables data sharing even by private companies, it renders all citizens vulnerable to identity theft, fraud, cyber-piracy, data breaches and other uses of their personal data with very serious security implications. Furthermore, the protections and cyber-security provisions in the Bill are inadequate and do not meet the standards prevalent in most countries. Despite all these concerns, the Bill will not even be debated in the Rajya Sabha and has not been subject to adequate public scrutiny.
The most recent and alarming case of passing important and far reaching laws in the guise of Money Bills is the inclusion in the Finance Bill of some very important features that actually have no place in such a Bill and deserve to be independently discussed and debated. The Bill contains several provision that will drastically increase “black money” and corruption. An important provision would enable political parties to receive unlimited and anonymous funding from corporate entities and from abroad, and will make electoral bonds anonymous. Since it is well known that political funding is probably the most important source of corruption in the country making it more opaque flies in the face of claims to greater transparency and will make matters even worse than they are at present with terrible implications for electoral democracy in the future. It is also in complete contrast to the treatment meted out to NGOs and civil society groups fighting for people’s rights, who are not being allowed to receive legitimate funds on dubious grounds. The Finance Bill also gives sweeping powers without accountability to the Income Tax department, which can encourage extortion at all levels.
Such Bills, which have serious implications for democratic functioning and financial security of all citizens, require serious and extensive public discussion and debate at all levels, with knowledge of the full implications of all of their provisions. Therefore, they cannot and should not be passed as Money Bills. We, therefore, appeal to you to at the very least allow extensive and uninterrupted discussions into every aspect of the Bill No. 12-C of 2017 in the Upper House and put all these on record and do everything else in your power to ensure that the practice of by-passing important Bills by illegitimately classifying them as Money Bills is immediately stopped. We appeal to you to protect the rights and duties of the Upper House and the interests of all the people of India. These Bills and the relevant provisions that cannot be described as routine in any sense, must be subject to proper democratic scrutiny in both houses of Parliament.
Aruna Roy, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan