Brazen contempt for the Rajya Sabha

KN Balagopal | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on May 17, 2015

Let truth prevail: Parliament is being undermined by those who want a Presidential form of government RV MOORTHY

This government is pushing important amendments as Money Bills to evade Upper House consent

The cat is out of the bag. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is upset that the indirectly-elected House (Rajya Sabha) should question the wisdom of the directly-elected House (Lok Sabha). He is angry that parliamentarians are asking questions.

It appears the NDA government has found a new way of undermining the Rajya Sabha, of which Jaitley is the leader: Pass off any legislation that deals with or relates to finances as a ‘Money Bill’ so that the Upper House of Parliament has no say onit. It is pertinent to note that there may be no legislation without monetary implications. In that way, any Bill can be brought in as a Money Bill. When the Opposition questioned the ‘liberal certification’ of the Money Bill, the finance minister mechanically interpreted Article 110 of the Constitution and hinted that the Lok Sabha is superior.

Legislations concealed

Most recently, the Finance Bill, returned by the Rajya Sabha, carries certain amendments to some independent Acts which were passed in earlier years by both the Houses. These Acts could have been amended through an independent process rather than being concealed inside the Finance Bill. But the government wanted to avoid the headache of Rajya Sabha scrutiny of these amendments.

On page 52, there are some amendments to the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act 1952. All recognised associations under the Forward Contracts Regulation Act shall be deemed to be recognised stock exchanges by inserting a new provision. This provision, we fear, will end up promoting futures trading in commodity derivatives. Committee after committee of Parliament had warned that speculative trading of foodgrains and other essential commodities are one reason for spiralling prices.

The government, fearing criticism, decided to bypass the Rajya Sabha. The country is already reeling under price rise due to the negative policies of this government. This amendment will make things worse, especially for farmers. During the UPA regime corruption in the functioning of commodity exchanges came to light. It was due to pressure from the Opposition that the government was forced to ban some essential commodities from futures trading.

On page 57, the Foreign Exchange Management Act is amended. The government claims it is acting fast against black money. But what is the new amendment? It says the Reserve Bank of India or the Centre shall not impose any restrictions on the drawal of foreign exchange for payment due on account of amortisation of loans or for depreciation of direct investments in the ordinary course of business. Who are the beneficiaries of this provision? Only those who stash money abroad.

Others amended

Again, on page 59, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, has been amended. Special Courts will replace adjudicating authorities. What is a special court doing in a Money Bill? These Acts have provisions for severe criminal punishments.

Hence, four or five existing legislations enacted by Parliament, by both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, were amended through this Finance Bill. Since the Finance Bill was certified as a Money Bill by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the scope and power of the Rajya Sabha stands curtailed.

A Money Bill does not require approval or adoption by the Rajya Sabha. By smuggling some independent legislations into the Finance Bill, the members of the Rajya Sabha are denied their democratic right to vote and pass or defeat this legislation.

This did not end with the Finance Bill. The Black Money Bill, which could have easily passed in Rajya Sabha as a normal Bill, was also brought as a Money Bill.

We do not wish to question the ruling given by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha that the Finance Bill is a Money Bill. But is it proper to include amendments to major independent Acts as part of the Finance Bill? What is the role of the Rajya Sabha in these matters?

Deeper plans

This House also has been constituted under the Constitution, and has its independent powers as Council of States. The concept behind the establishment of the council of states was formulated through a series of debates in the constituent assembly, guided by BR Ambedkar.

After 65 years of establishing the Constitution, this is the first time a government is openly questioning the federal structure of Constitution. In the future, it may be misused by some governments or even by a Speaker.

A presidential reference regarding the legal implications of the misuse of the articles in the Constitution on Money Bills is necessary for a harmonious relationship between the Centre and the States.

The government certainly has other plans. BJP leaders have never minced words to project their inclination for a presidential style of government. In our democracy, the Rajya Sabha will stand as a hindrance to such steps.

The government is indulging in a tendentious interpretation of the Constitution. This is a dangerous trend. If the tendency to bypass the Council of States for important legislations, by using the nomenclature — and excuse — of Money Bill, is not checked legally, it will affect the very basic foundation of our Constitution.

The writer is a CPI(M) leader and Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala

Published on May 17, 2015
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