Following is an edited excerpt of CPI(M) Leader in the Rajya Sabha Sitaram Yechury’s speech on the Finance Bill, 2017:
I am extremely worried about this discussion because I do not think this is really the Finance Bill. As somebody had said, this is a financial bully, not a Bill, that has been brought about by the government and passed in an extreme hurry in the other House (the Lok Sabha).
There are an unprecedented 189 amendments that have been made in this Finance Bill. Out of these, 129 relate to tax proposals. Sixty of these are related to what is called ‘Miscellaneous’, and this ‘Miscellaneous’ includes 14-17 matters that do not fall under the purview of the Finance Bill. This is an effort to undermine the very institution of parliamentary democracy in the country. By smuggling in non-financial matters, non-tax matters into the Finance Bill, which is a Money Bill, the government is depriving the Rajya Sabha of its right to discuss these matters and is undermining the entire constitutional scheme of things. This is an anti-constitutional Bill.
Draconian changes in the income tax laws have been brought in through this Bill. An income tax officer can now come to one’s house and say that he has “reasons to believe” – that’s all -- that one is hiding something, and he can raid the house. This is the revival of the inspector raj in the worst form.
I want to touch upon three other basic issues. One, undermining of constitutional democracy. It is a fascistic tendency. The current government is trying to undermine parliamentary democracy step-by-step. This House and Parliament should re-consider the definition of a Money Bill. I have said this before in this House. The time has come for us to revisit Article 110 (3) of the Constitution which gives this right to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha to decide whether any Bill is a Money Bill or not. Article 110(1) says what is a Money Bill and Article 110(2) says what is not a Money Bill. Article 110 (3) gives the right to the Speaker, but that right cannot negate what has been said in Articles 110 (1) and 110(2). But that is exactly what is happening today. And that negation is allowing this sort of a subterfuge being done of smuggling in non-tax proposals and changes into the Finance Bill, whereby fundamental issues are going to be amended, enacted and legislated without the opinion and concurrence of this House, which is anti-constitutional.
Second, the insertion of non-tax matters in the Finance Bill. Let’s take two issues among the seventeen or fourteen that have been smuggled in. The question of Aadhaar. Today the Supreme Court said that Aadhaar is something that is not even mandatory for welfare measures. But the government is making Aadhaar compulsory through backdoor. What is the reason for making Aadhaar compulsory for filing income tax returns? Insistence on Aadhaar is to create a surveillance state in India. It is violation of fundamental rights. Privacy is being violated by this Aadhaar. After the cult film ‘Enemy of the State’ showing how common students were being harassed because of surveillance in the United States of America released two decades ago, everyone thought it was in the realm of science fiction. Now through Aadhaar, a totalitarian state is being created. Consider another cult film, which is called 'The Matrix', where you have a number. You understand the mathematical matrix where each one of us has a number and we are all slotted into one matrix. The controller, sitting there, shall control what you and I will do and what is our individual role in society, and if we are found violative, we are just ejected from the matrix. Your number can just vanish. An Aadhaar number can just vanish and that means, you are not a citizen any more. This government doesn't have the courage to come forward and say openly, "I am dismantling this Constitution. I want this sort of an order, a totalitarian order, and, therefore, this is what I am doing." No one knows who controls all this data? Which are the companies to whom the government has given the contracts and who will actually collect this data? These are US companies. The second issue is the entire question of tribunals. Structural changes to institutions and sectors, which are completely outside the purview of a Finance Bill, are being made through the Bill. It permits the central government to specify the appointments, the tenure, the removal and the re-appointment of chairpersons and members of tribunals through ‘rules’. A Bill requires parliamentary approval, rules do not. And that is how the second part of the subterfuge that is being done.
Third, the aspect of political corruption. In the Union Budget for 2017-18, the government brought about some gimmicks. It reduced cash donations to political parties from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000 per individual. How does it stop anything? And then the government talked about electoral bonds, which is again a very fishy exercise because who buys the bonds and to whom he gives, nobody knows except the government of the day through the bank. In the Finance Bill, the Companies Act has been amended to serve two purposes. Under the existing Companies Act, no company can donate more than 7.5 per cent of its profits, net profits, after paying taxes, to any political party or many parties. The total is only 7.5 per cent. That is the ceiling. The government has removed that ceiling. Any company can give any amount, more than 100 per cent of its profits also. It is paving the way for many benami companies to come into existence. It is paving the way for such immorality in the name of pleading for political morality. The companies are no longer obliged to tell the name of the political party to whom is is donating. That is anonymous. Nobody knows who gets this money, except that political party. Nobody will know who redeemed the bonds except the government with its control through the Aadhaar, through the surveillance state and then the entire totalitarian structure will come. Instead of ending political corruption, it is elevating political corruption to obnoxiously high levels. I used the words ‘obnoxiously high levels’ deliberately. Because that is the amount that is being spent by the ruling party today in every single election. This sort of distortion of the democratic process, through the influence of money power, is something that eats away the vitals of the democracy. The provision for removing the ceiling for companies to donate to political parties and making it anonymous is an ambiguity that is going to destroy the transparency in these donations. And then doing this through the so-called very dubious electoral bonds is a clear recipe for the ruling party today to coerce, exhort and collect money for its political-electoral benefits.
All these three aspects are undermining the very vital character of Indian democracy, and undermining its foundations. Last year itself, the government had amended the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act retrospectively from 2010 permitting foreign companies to donate to political parties.
The time has come when this cannot be allowed to be done in a manner which cannot be defined or substantiated under law. This needs to be relooked and an amendment to the Constitution needs be brought in to change the definition of a Money Bill. All non-tax proposals and changes made here in forms of various Bills must be scrapped from the Finance Bill. The Finance Bill deals only with tax proposals and tax changes. All extraneous matters should be dropped. (END)