The annual Finance Bill by the Government of India is perhaps one of the most anticipated events in the economic sector, for the fate of the economy is, to a large extent, decided by it. The Finance Bill 2017 was not any different in this regard. But it was unique at the same time, given the controversies it attracted.
The Bill, in its original form, was introduced in the Parliament on the 1st of February, 2017, and was discussed and debated upon. As harmless and innocent it would seem in the beginning, in its amended form, the bill has made even the supporters of the Government roll their eyes. The shady introduction of controversial amendments in the eleventh hour meant that there was hardly any discussion on them. Further, disguising them under the money bill by (mis)using provisions laid down under Article 110 has irked the opposition, and rightly so.
Agreed, the functioning of The Upper House, in recent times, have set a very low standard for modern democratic parliamentary procedures. Let’s also give PM Modi the benefit of doubt that he is not a power- hungry leader who has dictatorial tendencies, as the opposition loves to project him, but bypassing the Rajya Sabha for amendments which are inherently controversial in nature and require serious discussions does not quite support the “sabka saath sabka vikaas” stance of the government.
Modi Government lacks the numbers in Rajya Sabha and numbers don’t lie. Simply put in accounting terms, it means to score less pending bills in Rajya Sabha. But this is not accounts, this is economics. Failure in accounts leads to loss, but a loss in economics is a failure. This another unprecedented move is in stark opposition to the federal structure laid down in the Constitution.
What’s it all about?
Three amendments of the forty.
The current system allows corporates to donate up to 7.5% of their profit, averaged over the last 3 years to political parties. Also, to maintain transparency, the companies are required to declare the names of the parties to which they are donating. The Finance Bill 2017 proposes to remove both of these restrictions. It is speculated that while the former may increase the lobbying capacity, the latter may lead to an increase in the number of bogus political parties.
The Supreme Court, on multiple occasions, has maintained that Aadhaar Card linking in welfare schemes must be purely voluntary, and it cannot be otherwise until and unless directed by the court. But the finance bill thinks otherwise. According to this bill, failure to provide the Aadhaar number to the concerned authorities shall result in the invalidation of the PAN. Since the inception of Aadhaar, there have been multiple genuine security concerns. In the light of this fact, linking Income Tax Returns with Aadhaar may not be the best way of centralizing public financial data.
Also, this finance bill stands for tribunal merger which, in principle, is laying vain their prowess in the manners of dispute they have gained over the years. Merging of tribunals would imply that the employee structure in the existing tribunal must undergo an overhaul. This would mean that the Government gets to decide who-gets-to-be-who in the new tribunals. This would be a conflict of interest when the government itself is a litigant in one of these tribunals.
Someone said, Follow the path or leave a trail. But, is this the sort of trail one should even consider leaving behind?