In case you didn’t notice, with the passing of the Finance Bill, the government just changed over 40 laws, and we might just be headed for some depressing times
If you could pass a law and ensure your favorite politician gets superpowers -is able to overrule Parliament, Courts, other in stitutions, laws -and `rule’ India without question for as long as heshe lives, would you wave that wand? Now, assuming this person is indeed everything India needs, there is still that small problem of mortality.Heshe could die and the next person who comes along may not be all that nice. Which is why countries need institutions and laws, and which is also why we need to ensure that these institutions and laws are honoured and safeguarded. They are our protection against oppression; they ensure that the government is truly of, by and for the people.Earlier this week, something called the `Finance Bill’ was passed by the Lok Sabha. (A `bill’ is a proposed law, it becomes an `Act’ when it is passed). It will not go to the Rajya Sabha but will become binding law as soon as it gets the assent of the President of India. This will happen because the law has been passed as a `Money Bill‘. As per the Constitution of India, a Money Bill is, in summary, a bill, which pertains to the spending, or borrowing of money by the Central Government. Such bills are not required to be sent to the Rajya Sabha, which is a requirement for most other laws. This government has, however, been repeatedly passing laws that have nothing, or very little to do with `money’ as money bills, to ensure that the bills don’t reach Rajya Sabha where it does not hold majority. This is how institutions, law-making practices and conventions are destroyed.

What does this `Finance Bill’ do?
This entire newspaper would not suffice for a detailed explanation, because the bill in one thrust amends forty laws.Forty laws have been changed in one day without the established institutions and procedures being followed. What do some of these changes say? Firstly, Aadhaar has been made compulsory for filing tax returns. The bill in fact says that if you don’t have Aadhaar and want to file tax returns, your PAN will be cancelled and treated like it never existed. This is after various orders of the Supreme Court repeatedly saying Aadhaar should not be made mandatory. It is despite the assurances of the Attorney General to the apex court that Aadhaar cards would only be issued on a “consensual basis“. This, at a time when the government has become deaf to concerns that Aadhaar has become an instrument of surveillance, the data obtained for Aadhaar is prone to theft and rampant misuse such as it being given to private companies etc. When it was pointed out in Lok Sabha that, in view of Supreme Court’s orders, the government was unfairly forcing citizens, Arun Jaitley said `Yes, we are.’ Secondly, several previous limitations on companies pertaining to the amount they could donate to political parties and the disclosure requirements on such donations have been done away with. Limitations had been imposed on the money that could be donated by companies to avoid quidpro-quo, and corporates exercising undesirable influence over governance.This government has practically done away with both, the limitations as well as the disclosure requirements. I have no hesitation in saying that the government is playing a two-faced game: pretending to curb petty corruption while rolling out the red carpet for large scale institutional corruption. This writer had previously written about how while making plenty of noises about corruption, this government passed a law retrospectively to legalise foreign donations obtained unlawfully by both BJP and Congress.

Thirdly, the government has brought back raid-raj by doing away with a requirement that income tax officers will have to furnish reasonsget court orders prior to conducting raids. If you’re a whistle-blower, or a journalist, or an average joe wanting to hold the government and its officers accountable, don’t be surprised if income tax officers raid your home, ruin your peace and privacy and go scot free afterwards.There is zero rationale for this amendment except it being a tool to harass people.

Fourthly, the bill merges eight tribunals (quasi-judicial bodies) into other tribunals. This is most bizarre because many of the merged tribunals require specific expertise. Most tribunals are overburdened and short of competent personnel, and in this scenario reducing their number and increasing their workload is nothing short of bizarre. The Government of India is a litigant before almost all these tribunals. To ensure their independence the qualifications, terms of service and more of the personnel manning these tribunals was stipulated in law, and could be altered only by Parliament.The government has now appropriated these powers for itself. Forget about fair hearing before tribunals. Meanwhile, all these radical changes found little or no space in most newspapers. The Supreme Court of India has been sitting on the case to decide constitutionality of Aadhaar for over 1.5 years. We are heading full throttle towards a complete institutional breakdown. What about democracy? Enjoy it while it lasts.