As many as five Bills were tabled in the Lok Sabha during March as “money bills”. They consist of the Finance Bill and four bills related to the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Finance Bill 2017
The Finance Bill is a piece of legislation that is tabled in parliament every year, along with the Union Budget. Taxation, expenditure and borrowing targets proposed in the budget become operational once the Finance Bill is approved by the Parliament and signed by the President.
The Finance Bill in 2017 is extraordinarily broad in scope. In addition to the budget proposals, it includes as many as 40 amendments to numerous laws including the Representation of the People Act, Reserve Bank of India Act, Indian Post Office Act, Indian Trusts Act, Oil Industry (Development) Act and Payment and Settlement Systems Act.
The amendment to the Representation of the People Act contained in Finance Bill 2017 is aimed at legalising unlimited amounts of anonymous corporate donations to political parties.
Currently, a company may contribute up to 7.5 percent of the average of its net profits in the last three years to political parties. It is required to disclose such contributions in its profit and loss account, along with the name of the parties to which contributions were made. The amendments contained in the Finance Bill 2017 propose to remove these requirements by introducing a new financial instrument called electoral bonds.
This reform allows the capitalist monopoly houses to make even larger donations through electoral bonds without arranging suitcases full of cash.
The domination of capitalist interests over the electoral arena is one of the most harmful forms of corruption, which subordinates public decision making at the highest level to private interests. Opening the floodgates of corporate funding through electoral bonds amounts to the legalisation of corruption. It is a reform which will further accentuate the extremely unequal playing field between parties funded by capitalist monopolies and all others. It is aimed at moving India towards an American style system, where a couple of parties financed by capitalist monopolies completely dominate the political process and nobody else even attempts to contest elections.
The Finance Bill also includes other draconian and controversial measures. It empowers the Income Tax Department to conduct raids on anyone without disclosing the source of their information about suspected tax evasion. It empowers the Executive to appoint the chairpersons and members of various Tribunals, removing the role of the judiciary in such appointments. It makes AADHAR mandatory for all registered income tax payers.
The provisions in the Constitution of India regarding a Money Bill have been copied from British parliamentary procedure.
Article 109 (1) of the Constitution of India stipulates that a Money Bill can be introduced only in Lok Sabha. Once passed by Lok Sabha, it goes to Rajya Sabha along with the Speaker’s certificate that it is a Money Bill. However, Rajya Sabha cannot reject a money bill. It must return it within 14 days with any recommendations, which the Lok Sabha can accept or reject. In either case, the Bill is deemed to have been passed by both Houses. Article 109 (5) states that if Rajya Sabha fails to return the Bill within 14 days, it is deemed to have been passed by both houses of Parliament.
Article 110 (1) of the Constitution states that a Bill is deemed to be a Money Bill if it contains only provisions concerning money matters such as taxation and other levies, regulation of government borrowing and authorization to spend public monies.
Article 110 (3) states, “if any question arises whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not, the decision of the Speaker of the House of the People thereon shall be final”.
Finance Bill 2017 clearly does not qualify as a money bill according to Article 110(1). Yet the Speaker of Lok Sabha certified it as a money bill; and according to Article 110(3), the decision of the Speaker is final.
As with most articles in this Constitution, Article 110 has one clause which provides for a so-called “check” against arbitrary exercise of power by the Executive, and another clause which provides the Executive with a way to get around it. It shows the two-faced nature of the Constitution.
Expecting opposition in the Rajya Sabha to the political funding reform and other measures, the Modi government included all these issues in Finance Bill 2017 and passed it as a money bill. While every other Bill tabled in Parliament requires approval by both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, a money bill does not need approval by Rajya Sabha (see Box). As it happened, Rajya Sabha proposed five changes to the Finance Bill and the Lok Sabha rejected all of them. Finance Bill 2017 is deemed to have been approved by Parliament, and has by now become law.
The introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) involves the replacement of many central and state indirect taxes, including central excise, additional excise, service tax, state value added tax and entertainment tax, by a single tax administered jointly by the central and state governments. It is a reform that has been demanded by Indian and foreign capitalist monopoly houses for many years now.
The GST is a major reform that affects states’ tax autonomy. It warrants a thorough discussion in the Rajya Sabha. However, this was not allowed to happen, by passing the proposals as money bills. While the Prime Minister talks about “cooperative federalism” the reality is that decision-making power is being more and more concentrated in the hands of the central Cabinet.
By legalising unlimited amounts of anonymous corporate donations to political parties, the big bourgeoisie is legitimising its complete control and domination of the political process so as to more effectively impose its dictate on the whole of society. Decision-making power is being even more concentrated in the hands of the Executive. The central tax department is being armed with more police powers and unrestrained authority to target anyone who stands in the way of the monopoly houses, in the name of fighting corruption.
In order to combat the fascist offensive of the capitalist monopoly houses, it is essential to break out of the bounds of the existing system of parliamentary democracy. The passing of the wide-ranging Finance Bill 2017 and GST Bills as money bills exposes that this system is in essence Cabinet rule. It shows that parliamentary procedures and the existing Constitution do not provide any kind of “check” on the arbitrary powers of the Executive.
The system of parliamentary democracy that exists in our country is a mechanism for sorting out contradictions within the minority of exploiters in power. The interests of the exploited majority of workers and peasants are kept out of the reckoning altogether. The annual budget, which imposes enormous additional burdens on the heads of the working people by way of indirect taxes which raise market prices of essential commodities, is passed by the Parliament every year with not even any substantive discussion.
While the exploited majority are kept out of power in this system, space is provided for different sectional interests within the exploiting minority to compete among themselves for control over the Executive power of the State. The growing concentration of wealth in the hands of a handful of giant monopolies, is being reflected in the growing domination of parties representing the biggest capitalist monopolies.
The origin of Indian parliamentary democracy lies in the limited process of representation which the British colonial rulers established, in order to accommodate various sections of Indian elite and consolidate their rule. That same system has been used by the Indian big capitalists after 1947, to accommodate various other propertied interests at different stages of capitalist development, while keeping the toiling majority of people out at all times.
In the present period, when the Indian monopoly capitalists are on an aggressive imperialist drive, they are no longer able or willing to accommodate other propertied interests to the same extent as before. This is the reason why they are pushing for further monopolisation of political space by their trusted all-India parties.
The fascist offensive of the capitalist monopolies needs to be combated with the perspective and aim of replacing the existing bourgeois parliamentary democracy by a superior system of modern proletarian democracy, in which sovereign decision-making power is vested in the people and not in the Parliament or Lok Sabha or the Cabinet or the President.