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Govt promoting crony capitalism: Oppn in Rajya Sabha



[ March 28, 2017 ]

New Delhi: The Opposition today 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 privisions, 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 personnels should be implemented and criticised the government for not taking steps to implement 'one rank, one pension'.
PTI