The Big Story: Blind eye

The Rajya Sabha is set to discuss the controversial Finance Bill on Monday. That does not mean very much legislatively, since it is a money Bill and has already passed in the Lok Sabha. The Bill can become law without the assent of the Rajya Sabha. But that does not mean the Upper House of the Indian Parliament has no say in the shape of the legislation. Members in the Rajya Sabha can point out flaws, propose amendments and, most importantly, use the discussion to educate the public about the law that was passed before most members of the Lok Sabha even had a chance to look at all its provisions.

And there is much to be discussed. The initial Bill tabled by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on February 1 contained a few problematic provisions, such as giving sweeping powers to Income Tax officials to search and seize property and introducing electoral bonds that permit anonymous donations to political parties. Then, last week, Jaitley went further and added 33 more clauses to the Bill at the very last minute, taking the total number of laws amended by the Finance Bill up to 40.

The Rajya Sabha must, at the very least, ask the government why it introduced these changes so hurriedly, making it difficult for even BJP members to examine the provisions. But it also has a chance to ask the government why it continues to openly flout an order by the Supreme Court.

The apex court has made it clear that the Aadhaar number, a unique identity programme, cannot be mandatory until it has passed a judgment in the case looking into its legality. Yet despite this, over the last few months the government has brazenly expanding the scope of Aadhaar, making it compulsory for many schemes. Last week in Parliament, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley even admitted as much.

Justice can not be sped up, and so the Supreme Court may take its time in getting to the Aadhaar case and coming to a conclusion – a process that could take years. But the Rajya Sabha, including Bharatiya Janata Party members concerned about their Lower House counterparts ignoring the Supreme Court, ought to ask the question of why the government is openly challenging the authority of another organ of our democracy. Jaitley has admitted in plain English that this is what the government is doing. The Upper House needs to play its role and ensure that India’s Parliament does not deliberately throw the country into a constitutional crisis by openly flouting the Supreme Court.

The Big Scroll

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  1. Shibani Ghosh in The Hindu is not sure whether the judgment that recognises the Ganga and Yamuna as living entities will have any impact.
  2. Ameet Patel in BloombergQuint points to the many questions that come up now that the Lok Sabha has made Aadhaar mandatory for Income Tax Returns.
  3. “If [SM] Krishna’s switch has the ring of low comedy, the BJP’s readiness to welcome every defector that comes its way reflects the Modi-Shah combine’s unrelenting drive for complete domination over India’s polity any which way, every which way,” writes Manini Chatterjee in the Telegraph.
  4. A leader in Mint says that the government has not done nearly enough to ground the Aadhaar in a legal ecosystem with rights and protections.


Don’t miss

Raksha Kumar asks: Where is the data to support the government’s rationale for linking the Ken and Betwa rivers?

“But ecologists question the assumption that Ken is a surplus river as compared to the Betwa. How does the government define the word “surplus”, they ask.

Currently, the government seems to be taking into account unutilised water from a particular river. This is derived after taking into account all the water-use potential of that basin – drinking water needs, appropriate irrigation, sewage utility and ecological needs of the river to rejuvenate itself. District-level officials collate this data and hand it over for tabulation at the state level.

The figures that show the Ken as surplus and Betwa deficient are not in the public domain.

The National Water Development Agency, which prepared the project reports for the Ken-Betwa link, refused to divulge the figures as both the rivers are tributaries of the Yamuna in the Ganga Basin. The Ganga flows through Tibet, Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Water sharing between these countries has been controversial and hence the hydrology of rivers in the Ganga basin remain a secret.”