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Lok Sabha clears Finance Bill

Arun Jaitley

Arun Jaitley  

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley invited suggestions from the Opposition for clean and transparent funding of political parties, as the Lok Sabha on Thursday cleared the finance Bill after it rejected five amendments (including those pertaining to anonymity of donors to political parties) recommended by the Rajya Sabha.

Opposition MPs accused the government of riding roughshod over Parliament over what they termed some “draconian provisions” in the Bill.

The Rajya Sabha’s amendments pertained to deleting the provisions relating to powers given to taxmen to requisition books of account, power to survey and other such discretionary powers. The Upper House had also approved that there should be a cap of 7.5% of net profit of the last three financial years for donation to political parties. It had also approved an amendment asking for the disclosure of donor names to political parties. These amendments were rejected in the Lok Sabha.

Mr. Jaitley, while responding to the debate in the Lok Sabha, said he had been “hearing only adjectives like it [political funding] must be clean, it must be transparent. Please give me ideal combination of the two. We are willing to consider it. I will wait for a specific suggestion.” The response came after a spirited discussion in the Lok Sabha on all the amendments.

Checks and balances

Initiating the discussion, Congress MP Deepender Hooda said there was a need for “checks and balances” on taxmen and they should put on file the objective for conducting survey, search and raid, otherwise there would be no accountability. He also demanded that a new Bill be introduced for regulating political funding. “We are not doubting the intentions of the government, but the manner in which this [changing rules for political funding via finance Bill] is being done,” he said.

“The process of change in electoral funding has nothing to do with the Consolidated Fund of India,” Mr. Hooda said, observing that the Finance Minister through these amendments had made the Rajya Sabha “incidental.” The government without cleansing the system of political funding was trying to push it under the carpet, he said.

Electoral bonds

Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy said he had suggested that a separate law be brought to introduce electoral bonds as the proposal had been included in the “so-called omnibus Finance Bill.”

Mr. Roy said the Rajya Sabha had approved the deletion of Clause 51 of Section 132a of the Income Tax Act — which deals with powers to taxmen for requisition of books of accounts. It was a “direct assault on the right of individual.”

Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal sought to know since when was there a provision in the Income Tax Act, 1961, that the person whose House was being searched, or raided was disclosed the reason. Mr. Mahtab also questioned whether political parties should run with funding from the corporate sector. “The floodgates would be opened for corporate funding for political purposes,” he said.

He added that political parties in power might benefit from the corporate houses but would such benefits accrue to them when they were out of power. He insisted that there should be transparency with regard to political funding and added that it was necessary to make the political system corruption-free.

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