Govt promoting crony capitalism: Oppn in RS

NEW DELHI
27 Mar 2017

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. " 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.