Finance Bill: A look at amendments forced by the Opposition in Rajya Sabha
Favourable numbers in the Rajya Sabha have once again come to the rescue of the Opposition. Several opposition parties came together on 29 March to defeat five amendments to the Finance Bill that the government had proposed and Lok Sabha had already passed.
The Bill was sent back to the Lower House with recommended amendments. It was a token victory, but a victory nonetheless that once again underlined the significance of the architecture of the Constitution of India in ensuring a balance of power.
The Finance Bill is a Money Bill and so the final power to accept or reject amendments lies with the Lower House.
In that sense, this was a mere symbolic victory of the Opposition that it was able to achieve because of its numerical advantage over the treasury benches in the Rajya Sabha.
The government has succeeded in getting the Lok Sabha to do away with the Upper Houses' proposed changes, but it will mean at least a slight loss of face for the government as it will be seen to be pushing its agenda by the sheer strength of numbers and not by consensus.
Three of these amendments were proposed by Congress's Digvijay Singh and two by CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury. All five were subjected to electronic voting in the House and were adopted without dispute. Their details are as follows –
Amendment no. 8 in Clause 51 of the Bill –
This amendment referred to the Section 132A that, Singh said, denies an income-tax assessee the right to “ask for an explanation as to why he is being raided or why he is being searched”.
Singh called the provision draconian and “strongly requested” the amendment to be deleted.
Put to vote, Singh's amendment received 80 votes in favour and 50 against. It was adopted and Clause 51, with amendment recommended, was added to the Bill.
https://t.co/DDRXLZujj9— digvijaya singh (@digvijaya_28) March 29, 2017
I totally oppose the draconian provisions of the Finance Bill of BJP. Full authority to IT Babus. Inspector Rajya.
Amendment no. 9 for deleting Clause 52 of the Bill –
This amendment was connected to the previous one as it talked about the power to not disclose the reason behind an income-tax raid to be given to even an Assistant Commissioner-level officer of the department. So far, this power was limited to Commissioner and Principal Commissioner.
Singh called it “unbridled power” to taxmen and called for the removal of the provision. Singh's amendment got 84 votes in favour and 52 against. was adopted. Clause 52, with amendment recommended, was added to the Bill.
Amendment no. 10 in Clause 53 of the Bill –
This clause seeks to amend section 133A of the Income-tax Act relating to the power of survey. It seeks to empower the income-tax department to “survey” NGOs and charitable organisations too, in addition to companies.
Singh alleged this was part of the government’s agenda to hound NGOs, which the government had been doing through the FCRA amendments so far.
He proposed that this clause be deleted and the amendment got 84 votes in favour and 50 against. It was adopted and Clause 53, with amendment recommended, was added to the Bill.
Amendment no. 11 in Clause 154 of the Bill, and Amendment no. 12 in Clause 154 of the Bill –
Both of these were moved together by Yechury, claiming that these provisions will “open the floodgates for political corruption of the highest order.”
These were essentially amendments to the Companies Act, 2013, through which restrictions on the amount of money that any company can donate to political parties was being done away with. The requirement for companies to disclose the names of the political parties who were beneficiaries of their donation was also being removed.
Yechury wanted both the restrictions and requirements back and his amendments received 80 votes in favour and 53 against. Both amendments were adopted and Clause 154, with amendments recommended, was added to the Bill.
We defeated govt bid to make corporate funding secret, lift ceiling on amounts they can give and impose motivated Inspector raid raj.— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) March 29, 2017
Disagreements among non-NDA parties
In a symbolic boost for the government, at least 3 non-NDA parties did not participate in these amendments. Trinamool Congress, with 10 MPs in the House, staged a walk-out saying, puzzlingly, that “it appears from the statement of the finance minister that the government will not consider the demand made by the Opposition parties”.
Yechury noted this fact and tweeted later that these parties had shown where they stood.
Despite walkouts by TMC, BJD and AIADMK, Opposition in Rajya Sabha succeeded in defeating government in four amendments.— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) March 29, 2017
Govt enabling high level political corruption. We tried to thwart this. Those not voting have shown where they stand https://t.co/YhIVv9hbs3— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) March 30, 2017
Lok Sabha on Thursday rejected these recommendations and passed the Bill.