New Delhi, Feb. 5: The Narendra Modi government appears to have again opted for the money bill route, this time to implement new provisions on political parties' funding, to "sidestep" the Rajya Sabha where the ruling NDA is in a minority.
A money bill can be introduced, amended and voted on only in the Lok Sabha. They are referred to the Rajya Sabha but it cannot vote on them, nor can it hold back such legislation for more than 14 days.
The planned amendments have been mentioned in the finance bill, which was part of the budget presented last week. The proposed changes in political funding have been hailed by some as a game-changer but have not stood the scrutiny of transparency and accountability advocates.
According to some, none of the amendments qualifies as a money bill. "Where is the actual money outflow from the Consolidated Fund of the Government of India," asked former Union minister Jairam Ramesh. The senior Congress leader has moved the Supreme Court against the government's decision to declare the Aadhaar legislation a money bill.
Since the Speaker's decision is final on whether a legislation is a money bill, the Aadhaar Bill was cleared by Parliament as such. But the matter is pending in court.
Asked about the latest move, Ramesh said: "He (finance minister Arun Jaitley) will say they are budget proposals and, hence, automatically money bills. This is unadulterated hogwash. There is no expenditure whatsoever from the Consolidated Fund of India."
RSP Lok Sabha MP N. K. Premachandran, who has protested the frequent use of the money bill route to bypass the Rajya Sabha, described the three planned amendments as "totally unconstitutional" and against the spirit of parliamentary democracy.
Premachandran said the only amendment that could somewhat qualify to be put in the Finance Bill is the one related to the Income Tax Act as the government intends to bring electoral bonds and reduce individual donations to political parties from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000.
"How does the amendment to the RP Act qualify as a money bill? Going by the government's logic, every bill is a money bill because there is a financial component to every single law. Even setting up a commission will then be a money bill because there will be some financial component," Premachandran said.
Venkatesh Nayak, of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, accused the government of "again trying to bulldoze amendments through legislation labelled 'money bill' to prevent dissent in the Rajya Sabha". "This grave constitutional impropriety, to say the very least, seems to be becoming a habit."
Nayak likened the inclusion of the amendments in the budget to the manner in which changes in the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) were "smuggled in" through the Finance Bill last year to permit parties to get donations from the Indian subsidiaries of multinational firms.
"The definition of money bill, as provided in Article 110, is crystal clear. It cannot, and must not, include matters other than those related to taxes or the Consolidated Fund of India. The amendments proposed to the RBI Act, IT Act and the RP Act clearly do not fall within this criteria."