Politics

‘Rajya Sabha Must Protect the Spirit of the Indian Constitution’

Over 175 prominent citizens have signed a statement asking Vice President Hamid Ansari to intervene on the “illegitimate” use of money Bills by the government.

File photo of Rajya Sabha. Credit: PTI

File photo of Rajya Sabha. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Over 175 people, including Fali Nariman, Prabhat Patnaik, Aruna Roy, Zoya Hasan, Medha Patkar, Jayati Ghosh, Swami Agnivesh, Usha Ramanathan, Bezwada Wilson, T.M. Krishna and Nandita Das have written to vice president and Rajya Sabha chairperson, Hamid Ansari, criticising the government’s move to classify the Finance Bill as a Money Bill. The signatories have requested Ansari to “allow extensive and uninterrupted discussions into every aspect of the Bill” which is 92 pages long and includes 40 amendments, among which many seek to change several Acts.

According to the press release accompanying the release of the statement, “In introducing the bill as a Money Bill, the Government has continued the abuse of process where vital debates on the controversial Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Bill, 2016 were avoided by tabling it as a ‘Money Bill’.”

The Bill includes a provision which makes Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns starting July 1 – the latest defiant move by the government that goes against the Supreme Court’s order stating the identity card may not be made compulsory. Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan said, “In deliberate and shocking perversion of legislative procedures, the Finance Bill goes much beyond its limits to destroy basic democratic and fundamental rights.”

Additionally, the Bill includes provisions which would make political funding even more opaque, opening the door for increased corruption. Jagdeep Chhokar of the Association for Democratic Reforms said that these provisions, and the 40 amendments in the Bill, ought to be “critically examined” by the Rajya Sabha.

Economist Jayati Ghosh added, “The Bill contains several provisions that will drastically increase “black money” and corruption. While the Government and the Speaker have ignored the concerns raised by the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, 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 multiple rights that we normally take for granted.”

The statement addressed to Ansari has been reproduced here.

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On the ongoing Illegitimate and inappropriate usage of the provisions related with Money Bills and Finance Bills by the Government

Dear Honourable Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha,

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.

This undemocratic strategy has already been employed in the case of the Aadhaar Bill, even though it contains many provisions that go well beyond is-sues relating to taxation and money appropriations of the government, which will directly affect every citizen of the country in numerous ways. De- spite the fact the millions of citizens will be denied their rights because of this, the Bill makes access to many essential and other public services contingent on Aadhaar. It is already evident that making it compulsory in food distribution in some states has excluded many needy and deserving citizens without cause. The Bill allows for unprecedented surveillance of every citizen and massive invasion of privacy. These can be used by governments at different levels to target political opponents and dissidents, as well as others. Because it enables data sharing even by private companies, it renders all citizens vulnerable to identity theft, fraud, cyber-piracy, data breaches and other uses of their personal data with very serious security implications. Furthermore, the protections and cyber-security provisions in the Bill are inadequate and do not meet the standards prevalent in most countries. Despite all these concerns, the Bill will not even be debated in the Rajya Sabha and has not been subject to adequate public scrutiny.

The most recent and alarming case of passing important and far reaching laws in the guise of Money Bills is the inclusion in the FinanceBill of some very important features that actually have no place in such a Bill and deserve to be independently discussed and debated. TheBill contains several provision that will drastically increase “black money” and corruption. An important provision would enable political parties to receive unlimited and anonymous funding from corporate entities and from abroad, and will make electoral bonds anonymous.Since it is well known that political funding is probably the most important source of corruption in the country making it more opaque flies in the face of claims to greater transparency and will make matters even worse than they are at present with terrible implications for electoral democracy in the future. It is also in complete contrast to the treatment meted out to NGOs and civil society groups fighting for people’s rights, who are not being allowed to receive legitimate funds on dubious grounds. The Finance Bill also gives sweeping powers without accountability to the Income Tax department, which can encourage extortion at all levels.

Such Bills, which have serious implications for democratic functioning and financial security of all citizens, require serious and extensive public discussion and debate at all levels, with knowledge of the full implications of all of their provisions. Therefore, they cannot and should not be passed as Money Bills. We, therefore, appeal to you to at the very least allow extensive and un-interrupted discussions into every aspect of the Bill No. 12-C of 2017 in the Upper House and put all these on record and do everything else in your power to en-sure that the practice of by-passing important Bills by illegitimately classifying them as Money Bills is immediately stopped. We appeal to you to protect the rights and duties of the Upper House and the interests of all the people of India. These Bills and the relevant provisions that cannot be described as routine in any sense, must be subject to proper democratic scrutiny in both houses of Parliament.

Signed by,

Aruna Roy, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan

Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, JNU, New Delhi

Fali Nariman, Eminent Jurist and Senior Advocate, Supreme Court

Jayati Ghosh, Professor, JNU, New Delhi

Zoya Hasan, Professor Emerita, Jawaharlal Nehru University

T. M. Krishna, Musician, Writer, Public Speaker, Activist

Bezwada Wilson, Safai Karmchari Andolan

Nandita Das, Actor, Writer, Director

Jagdeep Chhokar, Association for Democratic Reforms

Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan, NAPM

Swami Agnivesh

and many others.