More than 200 eminent citizens, including jurist Fali S Nariman, economist Jayati Ghosh and musician TM Krishna, have opposed the classification of the Finance Bill, 2017, as a Money Bill, calling it an “illegitimate” move that undermines the Constitution. In a letter to Vice President Hamid Ansari on Wednesday, they argued that the Upper House should not be bypassed by introducing important legislations as Money Bills, urging Ansari to “do everything else in his power” to stop this practice, reported PTI.
The signatories pointed out that the Finance Bill has 40 amendments to several Acts that have “far-reaching” effects on our democracy and Constitution. “Allow extensive and uninterrupted discussion into every aspect of the Bill in the Upper House,” read the letter addressed to the chairperson of Rajya Sabha.
Money Bills do not need the approval of the Upper House, where the Bharatiya Janata Party is currently in minority. “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…rights that we normally take for granted,” said economist Jayati Ghosh.
Jagdeep Chhokar, co-founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms, echoed Ghosh’s views. “It is a clear case of misuse of the spirit of a Money Bill,” he told Hindustan Times. An online petition has also been launched to garner more support, according to The Times of India.
According to the Indian Constitution, a Money Bill is one that falls under six broad categories of financial legislations, including the imposition or regulation of taxes and the regulation of government borrowing. But the Finance Bill tabled by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and passed by the Lok Sabha on March 22 had made Aadhaar mandatory to file income tax returns from July 1 and to apply for a permanent account number. It also includes amendments to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, Companies Act, Employees Provident Fund Act, Information Technology Act as well as the Smuggling and Foreign Exchange Act.
Regarding the Aadhaar Bill – which had also been passed as a Money Bill in March 2016 – the letter read, “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...the protections and cyber-security provisions in the Bill are inadequate. Despite all these concerns, the Bill will not even be debated in the Rajya Sabha and has not been subject to adequate public scrutiny.”
Opposition parties such as the Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal had alleged that the Centre was trying to bypass the Rajya Sabha by adding the changes as amendments to the Finance Bill instead of introducing separate Bills.