More than 175 prominent citizens on Wednesday wrote to vice president Hamid Ansari opposing a slew of amendments to the finance bill, a move that allowed the government to forestall a debate on the changes in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling coalition is in a minority. As the finance bill is a money bill, it doesn’t need the approval of the Upper House.
“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,” the letter said.
The amendments to the Finance Bill would institute several sweeping reforms. Among other things, the amendments make it impossible to file an income tax return or to obtain a PAN card without an Aadhaar card, would grant the government power to appoint and remove the chiefs of administrative tribunals, and would allow corporations to make anonymous contributions of unlimited size to political parties. The move is unusual because amendments to the finance bill have been typically about taxation and funds allocation.
Under Article 110 of the Indian Constitution, a bill introduced in the Lok Sabha may be deemed a Money Bill – and bypass debate in the Rajya Sabha – if it falls under six broad categories of financial legislation, including the imposition or regulation of taxes and the regulation of government borrowing.
The letter calls the Money Bill classification of the Finance Bill “illegitimate” and asks the vice president to “allow extensive and uninterrupted discussions into every aspect” of the bill.
“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… rights that we normally take for granted,” said economist Jayati Ghosh, one of the letter’s signatories, in a press release.
In signing the letter, Ghosh was joined by dozens of other prominent members of civil society, including Fali Nariman, a senior Supreme Court advocate; Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University; Aruna Roy, co-founder of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan; and Jagdeep Chhokar, co-founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms, a government watchdog group.
“I am very concerned about the large-scale, surreptitious amendment of law under the garb of a money bill,” Chhokar told HT. “It is a clear case of misuse of the spirit of Money Bill.”
Last May, the government used a Money Bill to pass an amendment to the Foreign Contributions (regulation) Act that eased the restrictions on foreigners making contributions to Indian political parties and NGOs.