Parliament today approved the Finance Bill 2017 after the Lok Sabha rejected five amendments moved to it by the Upper House with regard to curbing more powers to taxmen and a cap on donation by companies to political parties. Winding up the debate on amendments passed by the Rajya Sabha, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said they cannot be accepted by the government, but invited suggestions from political parties, including the Congress and the BJD, to make electoral funding more clean and transparent.
The Lok Sabha later rejected the Rajya Sabha amendments by a voice vote, thus passing the Finance Bill 2017 and completing the budgetary exercise for 2017-18. Jaitley said most of the donations that come to political parties now are from unclean money and there was complete non-transparency. Defending the budget proposal, he said it is not possible for the Government to accept the amendment as it would limit the number of donors to political parties. “The harsh reality is we continue to do politics on the basis of undeclared money, because if we do it on the basis of declared money… somebody will write an editorial and will have a problem with every solution we offer,” Jaitley said.
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Small donations by cash less than Rs 2,000. You can receive donations online too. And do it by bonds which is clean money,” he said.
With regard to the taxation amendments proposed by the Rajya Sabha, he said the current position will continue and the government as a matter of “abundant caution” and to protect whistle-blowers, the bill has specified that the “satisfaction note” will not be given to the target of investigation.
Since 1961, he said there is no example that the target of investigation was revealed the satisfaction note which forms the basis of investigation with regard to tax evasion.
“It would be disastrous to do that,” Jaitley said, adding such information can only be given to the courts.
The Finance Minister, during the course of reply, also took a dig at the Congress, saying if they had a problem with the electoral bonds, they could continue to accept donations by cheque and see how many people donates to them.
The government had yesterday faced major embarrassment in the Rajya Sabha as five amendments moved by the Congress and the CPI(M) to the Finance Bill were adopted and approved by the House.
The amendments proposed to delete the provisions relating to the powers given to taxmen like power to requisition books of account, power to survey and more powers to more officers.
The Rajya Sabha also approved an amendment that there should be a cap of 7.5 per cent of net profit of the last three financial years for donation to political parties. It also approved a provision to disclose the name of political parties to which contribution has been made by a company.
“I have an open invitation to all, please suggest to me a better system which will ensure clean money and transparency to the extent possible. I am yet to receive a single suggestion.
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“I am only hearing adjectives like ‘it must be clean’, ‘it must be transparent’. Please give me ideal combination of the two. We are willing to consider it. I will wait for a specific suggestion,” he said.
Responding to the issues raised by members on electoral bonds, Jaitley said such donations will be reflected in the balance sheet of corporates.
“Balance sheet will always reflect the amount of electoral bond that he (company) has purchased. The person who donates by cheque will be disclosed in the balance sheet, the person who donates by bond, the quantum of bond which is purchased will be reflected in the balance sheet,” he said.
“If we want clean money, should we narrow down and restrict the constituency of donors,” the Minister asked.
Calling for an “honest and bold decision”, he asked “do we want to clean up the political funding or no”.
He said “if we reduce the ambit of donors and the quantum they can donate, then the tendency to move towards cash donations will always be higher. So let us take a bold decision whether we want a tendency where people are incentivised and encouraged by cheques (donations) or not”.
“Today we have given the option that receive donation by cheque, there is total transparency. It’s clean money. Small donations by cash less than Rs 2000. You can receive donations online and do it by bonds which is clean money…,” he added.
When Md Salim (CPI-M) raised the issue, Jaitley said other political parties would not have any problem on ideological grounds, but “you have an ideological problem and you are opposing it from 2001”. The CPI(M) has been demanding state-funding of elections for a long time.