Several India’s well-known citizens led by top jurist Fali Nariman have strongly protested against the classification of the Finance Bill, 2017, as a Money Bill’, calling it “illegitimate”, asking Rajya Sabha chairman, vice-president Hamid Ansari in a letter to allow “extensive and uninterrupted discussions into every aspect of the Bill”.
The 175 citizens who have signed the letter include top economist Prabhat Patnaik, well-known Right to Information activist Aruna Roy, social scientist Zoya Hasan, social activist Medha Patkar, priest Swami Agnivesh, Safai Karmachari campaigner Bezwada Wilson, and actor Nandita Das, in a signed statement asked Ansari to ensure discussion to stop the “undemocratic” move.
Asking him to do “everything else” in his power “to ensure that the practice of by-passing important Bills by illegitimately classifying them as Money Bills is immediately stopped”, the letter particularly takes exception to making the Aadhaar card mandatory for filing income-tax returns from July 1 and making it compulsory to apply for a permanent account number (PAN).
“This undemocratic strategy has already been employed in the case of the Aadhaar Bill, even though it contains many provisions that go well beyond is-sues relating to taxation and money appropriations of the government, which will directly affect every citizen of the country in numerous ways”, the letter states.
“Despite the fact the millions of citizens will be denied their rights because of this, the Bill makes access to many essential and other public services contingent on Aadhaar. It is already evident that making it compulsory in food distribution in some states has excluded many needy and deserving citizens without cause”, it adds.
“The Bill allows for unprecedented surveillance of every citizen and massive invasion of privacy”, the letter insists, adding, “These can be used by governments at different levels to target political opponents and dissidents, as well as others.”
The letter states, “Because it enables data sharing even by private companies, it renders all citizens vulnerable to identity theft, fraud, cyber-piracy, data breaches and other uses of their personal data with very serious security implications.”
“Furthermore”, it adds, “the protections and cyber-security provisions in the Bill are inadequate and do not meet the standards prevalent in most countries. Despite all these concerns, the Bill will not even be debated in the Rajya Sabha and has not been subject to adequate public scrutiny.”
“The Finance Bill contains several provisions that will drastically increase black money and corruption”, alleges the letter, adding, “An important provision would enable political parties to receive unlimited and anonymous funding from corporate entities and from abroad, and will make electoral bonds anonymous.”
“Since it is well known that political funding is probably the most important source of corruption in the country, making it more opaque flies in the face of claims to greater transparency and will make matters even worse than they are at present with terrible implications for electoral democracy in the future”, the letter says.
It adds, “It is also in complete contrast to the treatment meted out to NGOs and civil society groups fighting for people’s rights, who are not being allowed to receive legitimate funds on dubious grounds. The Finance Bill also gives sweeping powers without accountability to the Income Tax department, which can encourage extortion at all levels.”
Claiming that the bills such as this “have serious implications for democratic functioning and financial security of all citizens”, and therefore should be discussed and debated at all levels, the letter asks the vice-president “to at the very least allow extensive and uninterrupted discussions into every aspect of the Bill.”