NEW DELHI: A new fault line was opened between the treasury and the Opposition benches on Tuesday after a key tax bill related to post-demonetisation bank deposits was passed without a debate amid the din in the Lok Sabha, before the members could bat an eyelid.
Outsmarted by the government, the Opposition is crying foul, even planning to write to President Pranab Mukherjee to withhold his assent to the amendment bill, which was passed by a voice vote. Leaders of nearly a dozen Opposition parties will be holding a strategy meeting on Wednesday morning to take a final call on whether they can or should knock on the president’s door to stop the bill from becoming an act of law.
The reason why this extreme step is being considered by the Opposition is mostly that the Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2016, is a money bill, which will automatically be deemed as approved even if it does not get a nod from the Rajya Sabha within 14 days.
The amendment bill seeks to impose 60 per cent tax plus penalties that could run to up 85 per cent of the illegal money sought to be converted.
As for the disclosed money, the depositors will be able to access only 25 per cent of the amount upfront and 25 per cent will remain locked in for four years, to be used for pro-poor welfare schemes.
The other hole picked by the Opposition, specifically Congress member K C Venugopal whose amendment was not taken up, is that Articles 117 and 274 of the Constitution were violated. Taxation amendment requires presidential recommendation. Many of the Opposition’s amendments were rejected as this criterion was not fulfilled and the the parties were clearly taken by surprise.
Senior Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy argued that the “the government did not follow the parliamentary procedure” — the bill was not on Monday’s list of business.
As a result the Opposition didn’t get an opportunity to oppose the introduction of the bill’’ or get presidential assent to press their amendments.
Disallowing the Opposition’s amendments, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan cited the clause that required the presidential recommendation.
Only two amendments, by N K Premachandran, an RSP leader from Kerala, and BJD MP Bratahari Mahtab, were allowed. While the former refused to move the amendment in protest, Mahtab’s amendment was defeated by a voice vote.
The Opposition also objected to the introduction and passage of the money bill when the House was not in order. The Left parties asked how a taxation bill could be “bulldozed” without a discussion.
The reason cited by the government for rushing the bill was that the people were trying to illegally exchange demonetised `1,000 and `500 notes.
The bill, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the Lower House, “will (also) give means to the government of India to run schemes like Garib Kalyan Kosh”. He also proposed a Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan cess.