As the fourth Parliament session of the 16th Lok Sabha came to an end on Wednesday, the BJP government is increasingly facing allegations of flouting or circumventing parliamentary procedures and traditions. And at the centre of the debate is the differences over ascertaining a particular Bill as a Money Bill and “bypassing” of standing committees. Opposition parties are discussing a proposal to take the matter to the President.
The Opposition accuses the government of including bills on the agenda in the last minute which were not discussed in the business advisory committee, which meets every week to finalize the business for the next week. The government, on the other hand, rejects all the charges saying it has always followed parliamentary procedures and norms.
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Opposition leaders claim the government is not taking them on board. There is lack of consultation with the Opposition on the legislative agenda, resulting in frequent showdowns, they claim. The result–as many as seven bills including the crucial GST Bill have been referred to select committee of Rajya Sabha. Some Opposition leaders claimed that the government’s floor managers are many a times not empowered to arrive at an understanding with the Opposition and wait for direction from above.
The government, on the other hand, cites the same instance to argue that it was listening to the Opposition’s views. “Whenever the Opposition has demanded referring of a particular Bill to the select committee, we have done so,” Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said. What he did not say was that lack of majority in the Upper House is forcing its hand.
The debate over the definition of Money Bill is the latest flashpoint. It began after the government clubbed certain amendments to the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act 1952, Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act of 1956, Foreign Exchange Management Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 with the Finance Bill.
The Opposition questioned the move in Rajya Sabha when the Finance Bill came up for discussion. The Chair said the Lok Sabha Speaker’s ruling cannot be questioned. The matter has now reached Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari. Opposition parties are also exploring the option of approaching the President on this issue.
A Money Bill can be introduced only in Lok Sabha and rules say “if a question arises whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not, the decision of Speaker thereon is final and the Speaker is under no obligation to consult anyone in coming to a decision or in giving his certificate that a Bill is a Money Bill.”
CPM MP K N Balagopal has written to Ansari arguing that “Rajya Sabha is being undermined by this government by attempting to pass off any legislation that deals or relates to finances as a Money Bill.” He talks about the Finance Bill and the black money bill, which was also certified as a Money Bill. The Finance Bill carried some amendments to some independent acts, which would have been amended through an independent process other than including inside the Finance Bill.
“Since the Finance Bill was certified as a Money Bill by the Speaker, the scope and power of Rajya Sabha stands curtailed. A Money Bill does not require an approval or adoption by the Rajya Sabha. Thus by enclosing some independent legislations hidden inside in the Finance Bill, the members of Rajya Saba are denied their democratic right to vote and pass or defeat this legislation,” he has written.
“We are not intending to question the ruling given by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha that the Finance Bill is a Money Bill. But the question is about the major amendments to major independent Acts. Is it proper to include all those amendments as part of the Finance Bill? What is the role of the Rajya Sabha in these matters? The Upper House should not be helpless. This House also has been constituted under the Constitution of India, and has got its own independent powers as Council of States,” he says.