The BJP is rapidly perfecting the art of bypassing Parliament and passing laws without discussion, especially important ones like the Finance Bill. After last year’s bizarre incident of smuggling in the Aadhaar related laws into the Finance Bill and getting it passed quickly in Lok Sabha, a similar but even more dictatorial move was adopted by the ruling party on 14 March 2018. Opposition MPs strongly protested against this dictatorial move.
Although the Finance Bill 2018 and the Appropriation Bill were listed for 5 PM, Lok sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan suddenly announced that it would be taken up at 12 noon. Then it was rushed through in just over 30 minutes, with the Speaker applying a guillotine on debate, which means that all outstanding demands for grants from various departments are put to vote together, irrespective of whether any discussion has taken place or not. The Bills were passed by voice vote, with BJP members already made to be present in the House by a whip issued a few days back. The BJP and its allies have a huge majority in the House.
Passage of the two Bills means that perhaps for the first time, the country’s Budget has been passed and finalized without any debate in the Lok Sabha. This is the last full Budget to be presented by the BJP led NDA govt. because General Elections are slated for next year and the incumbent govt., by convention presents only a holding Budget.
After passage in the Lok Sabha, the two Bills have to go to the Rajya Sabha but because they are money bills, they don’t require approval in the Upper House and will be considered passed if the Rajya Sabha does not return them within 14 days. The Opposition has a majority in the Upper House.
Later, several Opposition parties submitted a strongly worded letter to the Speaker protesting against the govt. decision to put the Budget to vote without due notice. The letter was submitted to Ms. Mahajan by a delegation of leaders including Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Jyotiraditya Scindia, CPI (M) MP Mohammed Salim, and RJD MP Jai Prakash Yadav among others.
The Opposition letter pointed out that in the last Business Advisory committee meeting held on March 5, the government had allotted time for discussion on the budget for six ministries, including the Agriculture Ministry. But the date and time for voting on the budget was not decided.
“This shows the government’s arrogance and unilateral move to bulldoze all the financial business without discussing them on the floor of the House,” the letter said.
The Opposition parties said that the House proceedings have been disrupted for the last seven days because of the govt.’s refusal to have a discussion on the Nirav Modi-Punjab National Bank fraud. “The government is not even coming forward to settle the issue for the smooth functioning of the House. On the other hand, the government is hell-bent on passing the entire Bill (Union budget) without proper scrutiny,” the letter said.
The functioning of both houses of Parliament has been stalled since the second half of the Budget session began on 5 March as opposition parties raised issues ranging from India’s biggest bank fraud to division of Cauvery river water and special package to Andhra Pradesh.
Last year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had introduced 30 pages of amendments to the government’s own Bill less than 48 hours before the legislation was taken up for scrutiny. No discussion took place on the voluminous amendments and they were pushed through by the ruling BJP. The amendments included an expanded scope of the biometric-based Aadhaar number, making it mandatory for tax payers to provide their unique identity number while filing returns. It also include a new chapter that altered 27 laws previously passed by Parliament. These amendments bring about unprecedented changes to the various tribunals established by Parliament through different Acts over the years.