New Delhi: The Opposition on Monday charged the government with trying to promote crony capitalism, creating fear by giving "unbridled power" to taxmen, trying to snoop into people's lives through increased use of Aadhaar through the provisions of the Finance Bill.
Opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha, including the Congress, SP, BSP and the Left, lambasted the government for not making enough provisions for creation of jobs through the rural employment guarantee scheme or to have farm loan waivers to check the growing number of farmers' suicide.
Initiating a discussion on the 2017 Finance Bill, Congress leader Kapil Sibal lashed out at the government claiming it had failed to generate jobs or provide support to farmers and its 'jumlas' and promises have remained hollow.
He also questioned the move to use Aadhaar for filing tax returns, saying it amounted to snooping into people's lives and the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister had earlier raised concern over the use of the unique identity number when the BJP was in Opposition.
Taking a dig at the BJP-led dispensation, he said some people in this government may have "the experience in snooping" and added that this also showed BJP's "double talk".
For the government, development only means the development of its "communal agenda", Sibal claimed, adding that he saw at least "six disturbing trends" which reflected the mindset of this government.
Referring to crony capitalism, the Congress leader said the government has done away with the cap on contributions that companies could make to political parties.
"Now these companies don't even need to disclose this amount or the identity of the beneficiary even to their shareholders," he said, claiming that these provisions were included to ensure that the party in power gets unabated funding for national, state or even civic elections.
Observing that there were several companies competing for contracts against which there are proceedings or which need restructuring, Sibal alleged that the government's motive was "merely to see that they contribute to the kitty of the ruling party."
"You are playing with the economic fabric of the country and you talk about transparency," he asserted.
Alleging that a provision to amend the Companies Act was "surreptiously brought in the garb of the Finance Bill", he said this was done by the government so that the Rajya Sabha, where it does not have a majority, will not be able to object to it. This amounts to "muffling the voice" of the Upper House, Sibal said.
Referring to the provision putting a maximum limit of Rs 2000 on cash contributions to political parties, Sibal said this issue fell in the domain of electoral reforms, but has been made part of a money bill, as the government does not want the Rajya Sabha to have a say.
Sibal also accused the government of giving "unbridled power" to tax authorities through the provisions of the Finance Bill, saying the tax authorities can now carry out search or seizure without divulging the "reason to believe" to the assessee.
He said the political opponents could be targeted through this provision and they may not get respite from any appellate body and possibly even from the higher courts. "And you will have a field day," the Congress leader said.
He claimed that the government had sought to create "an atmosphere of fear" in the minds of business people as Income Tax officers will now not need to disclose the reason to suspect. "Is this the transparency, accountabiliy or 'acche din' (good days) you had promised," Sibal asked.
The Finance Bill has also sought to merge several tribunals like the AERA with TDSAT which was a matter of policy. And the government, by including it in the Finance Bill, was evading Rajya Sabha, he said, adding it was brought in the Lok Sabha too at the last minute to avoid debate.
He also alleged that the government was trying to appropriate the powers of judiciary by keeping the rights of appointments to these tribunals.
Sibal, a senior lawyer, said another provision related to granting powers to IT officers to carry out raids and attach assets for six months as provisional attachment, alleging that these provisions were "only meant to exploit businesses and extort money."
Through yet another provision in the Finance Bill, the government has brought in a provision that surveys could be carried out on charitable institutions, which could also be used to harass political opponents.
He said the government was trying to foist all these changes through the Finance Bill in the Rajya Sabha so that there is no debate on them.
Questioning the linking of Aadhaar with tax filing, Sibal said even the Supreme Court had said that Aadhar was not mandatory, but the government does not seem to be bothered about it. "The only explanation for such things could be the arrogance of power," he claimed.
He said that while Aadhaar was aimed at ensuring that the targeted subsidies reach the beneficiaries. But now it appears that it could be used to access all information about an individual. "We are not living in a police state," he said.
Sibal warned Jaitley that the Bill he had presented would not stand scrutiny in court and get rejected as he questioned the procedures followed. He asked the Minister why he wanted to go down in history as a person who had "violated tradition and muffled the voice of the Upper House."
The Congress leader claimed that the government was not even maintaining constitutional proprieties. "What harm would have come been if there was a debate," he asked.
Sibal also attacked the Modi government saying it had not been able to take care of the farmers' interests and claimed that in UP, waiver of farmers' loans was promised before elections but now the Finance Minister was backing out.
Observing that instead of a promised 2 crore jobs, only 1.50 lakh have been generated, he asked "how is the Prime Minister able to sleep?"
He also hit out at Jaitley alleging he had said that out of 125 crore people in the country, only 3 crore paid taxes, implying that the people of the country were dishonest.
Citing census data, he said "if you remove the figures of urban and rural poor, of women and very young population who don't pay taxes, the figure one arrives at is around 3 crore. And you tell all the people that they are dishonest?"
The Congress leader referred to the recent assembly polls including in UP and said that the BJP may have become politically victorious, it was not a victory of its policies.
"Demonetisation has not won but demonisation has," he said.
He said the independence of the media was also being affected as media houses, which had other businesses under the provisions, were falling into the grip of the ruling dispensation.
Participating in the debate, Naresh Agarwal (SP) said former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was in the House, had earlier said that GDP growth will slowdown by 2 percentage points due to the impact of demonetisation.
He alleged that the government's conduct was "whimsical" as it was bringing in several major changes like merging tribunals, amending Airport Authority law, Electricity Act and other legislations under "the garb of money bill without giving approval of the Rajya Sabha."
He said allocations have been made and new schemes were being implemented, "but there are problems with actual implementation of programmes on the ground."
"This is the first government which has brought the slogan 'Amiri Hatao' (Eradicate Prosperity). We are used to a slogans of 'Eradicate Poverty. ... Instead of blaming people for non-compliance of tax laws, we should find a remedy to problems. Goldsmiths went on strike for 42 days," Agarwal said, criticising the government for giving "unnecessary wide discretion and powers" to the tax officials.
He demanded that the 7th Pay Commission for the defence personnel should be implemented and criticised the government for not taking steps to implement 'one rank, one pension'.
Cautioning the government for not agreeing to farm loan waivers for all states, the SP member said if this happens, there would be protests in other big states also like
Maharashtra as there have been many instances of farmers' suicide in other provinces.
He also lamented that the government was doing enough for MGNREGA and should do something constructive to create employment in the country.
Countering the allegations of the Opposition, BJP's Bhupender Yadav said the government has brought Bankruptcy and Insolvency bill, which the other parties ruling for decades could not do.
He also spoke of the government's announcement for spending Rs 20,000 crore on irrigation, saying only 46 per cent of land is irrigated in the country.
He also commended the government decision on demonetisation and the steps to encourage digital payments for bringing in transparency in the system.
Sukhendu Shekhar Roy (TMC) said the government was doing a "bypass surgery of legislative process" by bringing in various non-finance matters in the garb of the Finance Bill.
Attacking the government over the proposed amendments listed under the Finance Bill, he said it reflected the "totalitarian attitude" of the ruling party.
Speaking on amendments, he said enormous power were being given to the IT department, while the appellate system was being curtailed. "Unflinching power is being given to the income tax authorities..this is the situation...shameful situation," Roy said.
For the last 70 years, no such provisions were allowed but now due to the "whims and fancies" of the ruling party, such powers is being given to the IT department, he said,adding "I condemn it. I oppose it."
"Earlier it used to be inspector Raj and now it will be raid-seize-attach raj," he said. He also termed the amendment to merge various tribunals as "unimaginable".
Terming the Finance Bill as "finance bully", Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said it has also been cleared by the Lok Sabha "in a hurry".
"By smuggling in non-financial matters in the Finance Bill, the government is undermining the entire Constitution," the CPI(M) leader said.
Yechury said there have been references to Goebbels and Himmler, but the current government had put "all of them to shame" in the way they were undermining the parliamentary system. "This bill should be rejected and sent back to Lok Sabha for a relook. All non tax matters should be deleted."
He said making Aadhaar card mandatory was a violation of fundamental right of privacy. "What are you reducing this Republic of India to," he asked, as he opposed the amendments to alter the Companies Act and merger of various tribunals.
Satish Chandra Misra (BSP) said various amendments proposed under the Finance Bill should have been brought separately so that the members could have discussed in issues in detail. He agreed with Yechury and said the Finance Bill should be sent back to the Lok Sabha for reconsideration.
Misra said changes in the political funding law have been proposed to favour the ruling party, while attacking the government for failure to provide jobs to the youth.
"You said in 2014 that employment will be provided to around 2 crore people. Leave aside the fresh employment, you have on the other hand taken away jobs," the BSP MP said.
He attacked the government on several other issues including the validity of Jan Dhan accounts and introduction of various cesses in the taxation system.
D Raja (CPI) charged the government with adopting unconstitutional means for passage of the Finance Bill and may laws were being amended through this Bill.
He said the government was not concerned about farmers' distress and was giving concessions to corporates. "This government is for 'Corporates ka Saath, Corporates Ka Vikas' that I a can make out from this proposal," Raja said while listing out various proposals benefitting corporates such as cut in corporate tax.
He demanded that the government should release the names of defaulters responsible for non-performing assets of state-run banks.
Raja expressed concern over farmers' distress and reports of their suicide and wanted to know the government's reponse to deal with the situation. "You do not have any concern for farmers. What are you doing for farmers," he asked.
The CPI leader also demanded that the reservation policy should be extended to private sector, saying this was the need of the hour as the government was privatising public sector companies.
"This Finance Bill cannot go this way. It should be challenged. The Upper House has a responsibility to tell the government that it cannot take this route," he added.
Raja also spoke about atrocities against dalits and minorities in the name of beef.
T Subirami Reddy (Cong) said the government was amending various laws through Finance Bill and this has never happened.
He expressed concern over decline in industrial growth and exports as well as unemploment and bank NPAs.
Reddy said the government must infuse capital into banks and support distressed sectors like steel.
V Vijaysai Reddy (YSRCP) said genuine shareholders could suffer losses if the companies adopt unfair means in providing political donations.
Talking about the provision regarding any cash receipts above the prescribed limit would be liable to tax, he asked the government to clarify in the Finance Bill that cash withdrawal from banks would not be liable to tax.