The Finance Bill: To signify tighter Government control

By Advait Moharir

The Budget Session of the Parliament, like any other session, has been a stormy affair. In the midst of the election season, the government has managed to pass some important Bills without much ado. However, there was an uproar in the House when the Finance Bill was tabled, with multiple allegations, ranging from the government being sold out to corporates to it compromising on citizen privacy.

Illustrating the Finance Bill

The Finance Bill is a Bill passed by the government at the end of every Budget Session. It highlights the government proposals for levying new taxes, changes in the tax structure or the continuance of the same. It is a fairly routine process which usually goes by without any hurdle. However, this time, there have been changes made to the Bill which have ruffled many feathers. Firstly, the government introduced as many as forty amendments without notifying the members of the House. The initial copy of the Bill had no mention of the amendment. It was the last minute additions, which left the members of the House baffled over what they were supposed to discuss. This created suspicion in the minds of many Opposition parties who felt that the government was trying to circumvent due procedure, and prevent the members from studying the amendment clauses.

A catalyst to uproar

However, what actually created so much ruckus were the amendments themselves. A series of sweeping decisions, never seen before in a Finance Bill were introduced. For instance, it gives the right to income tax officers to raid homes without giving any reason for such raid. This runs contrary to Section 132 of the IT Act which made it mandatory for tax officials to provide some basis for a search. The move is criticized for it gives way to arbitrary raids and arrests. Another amendment makes the possession of an Aadhaar card compulsory to file income tax returns. It would be linked to the PAN Card. The recent move of the government, making the possession of an Aadhaar card compulsory for midday meals, and then retracting, was criticized by the general public. These amendments are being seen as a threat to citizens’ privacy.

Another disappointing amendment was the removal of the cap on private political funding, and allowing the usage of electoral bonds to anonymously fund parties. This move completely undermines the earlier reforms of the individual donation limit being cut down from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 2,000. It shows that the talk of reform was merely to lure people into a false bubble of optimism before introducing alternative but equally non-transparent practises.

Amendments of prudence

There are other questionable moves too, like making the appointment of quasi judicial bodies like tribunals a function of the Central Government rather than the Courts. This severely affects the independence of these crucial organizations, and shows that the government is slowly but surely encroaching areas beyond their jurisdiction.

The fact that this was introduced as a part of the Money Bill, despite several unrelated amendments indicates the government’s fear and unwillingness to engage with these critical questions in the larger sphere of parliamentary debate. It shows how it has managed to use technical and legal manoeuvring, along with its sheer strength of numbers in the Lok Sabha to pass a controversial legislation by brushing aside all Oppositions.

Thus, the Finance Bill is a sign of how the government is easing into power. It is indeed a warning for the Opposition and citizens alike, to be alert and vigilant.


Featured image: BBC