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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Lok Sabha approves Finance Bill, rejects changes made in Rajya Sabha

Parliament on Thursday approved the Finance Bill 2017 after the Lok Sabha rejected five amendments moved to it by the Upper House with regard to curbing more powers to taxmen and a cap on donation by companies to political parties.

india Updated: Apr 14, 2017 09:14 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Finance minister Arun Jaitley with his deputy Arjun Ram Meghwal (left) and Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhiya
Finance minister Arun Jaitley with his deputy Arjun Ram Meghwal (left) and Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhiya (Mohd Zakir/HT File Photo)

The Lok Sabha rejected five amendments moved by the Rajya Sabha to pass the finance bill on Thursday, completing the budgetary exercise well before the start of the next financial year.

However, finance minister Arun Jaitley invited suggestions from political parties – including the Congress and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) – to make electoral funding “more clean and transparent”.

“I have an open invitation to all. Please suggest a better system that will ensure clean money and transparency to every extent possible,” he said. “I am only hearing adjectives like ‘clean’ and ‘transparent’. Please give me an ideal combination of the two. We are willing to consider a specific suggestion after we get one.”

Jaitley said most of the donations received by political parties in the present scenario lack transparency, and stem from unclean money. “The harsh reality is, we continue to do politics on the basis of undeclared money. Because if we do it on the basis of declared money... somebody will write an editorial, citing a problem for every solution we offer,” he added.

CPM leader Sitaram Yechury’s two amendments on nullifying changes made to the Companies Act on political funding were accepted by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

The finance bill, being a money bill, will now go to the President for approval. As per the provisions of Article 109 of the Constitution, the Rajya Sabha has limited powers with regard to draft legislations tagged by the government as money bills. The Lok Sabha is free to either accept or reject all or any of its recommendations.

The finance minister said it was not possible for the government to accept the amendments as it would limit the number of donors to political parties. “Today, we have granted the option of receiving donations by cheque – there is total transparency, it is clean money. Small donations of less than Rs 2,000 can be made by cash. You can receive online donations too. One can also do it through bonds, which is clean money,” he added.

Taking a dig at the Congress, Jaitley said the party could continue accepting donations through cheque if it has a problem with electoral bonds. “Then you can see how many people donate to them,” he quipped.

The finance minister said the government will maintain status quo on taxation-related amendments.

As a matter of “abundant caution” aimed at protecting whistle-blowers, the government has specified in the bill that the “satisfaction note” or reasons for initiating a search or survey will only be shared with the court – not with the person or entity in question.

Earlier, the Opposition had accused the government of riding roughshod, and violating the procedures of the house. It also charged the ruling side with opening doors to “political extortionism” and passing draconian provisions in the finance bill.

Initiating the discussion, Congress member Deepender Singh Hooda said this was a “historic” occasion because the Rajya Sabha had never amended the finance bill in the past. “There has been widespread criticism of the government misusing parliamentary procedure, thereby infringing on the rights of parliamentarians. How can (a legislation on) electoral funding and transparency be a money bill?” he asked, observing that the finance minister has made the Rajya Sabha “incidental” through these amendments.

Trinamool Congress member Saugata Roy said powers given to taxmen under the finance bill were “draconian”, and went against the rights of individuals. “Procedures of the house are being violated, and the finance bill is being made a compendium... Just because they have a majority in the house, they should not run roughshod,” he added.

Bhartruhari Mahtab of the BJD also voiced an objection. “Since when has the provision for revealing the reason of search to the affected party been there in the Income Tax Act, 1961?” he asked. “The government’s primary objective should be to protect citizens, not just whistle-blowers… This will open the floodgates of corporate funding for political purposes.”

Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi urged the government to reconsider its decision to reject the Rajya Sabha-recommended amendments. “Power is not eternal. You are creating a precedent. You are acting in haste, and the people of India will repent in leisure,” he said.

The Shiv Sena, a constituent of the ruling NDA, took a divergent stand yet again. Party leader Anandrao Vithoba Adsul insisted that there be transparency in political funding, besides a ceiling on the funds being given to a party. Requesting the government to consider the amendments, he said: “Does having a majority in the Lok Sabha mean that amendments will not even be considered? We need to introspect on this.”

First Published: Mar 30, 2017 15:57 IST