The second and the last half of the Budget Session of Parliament, which concludes on Wednesday, has turned out to be a largely productive one, working in favour of the NDA government. The first part of the session, 31 January to 9 February, was washed out after the Opposition cried foul over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation drive.
Since the Budget Session resumed on 9 March, following a month long recess, many key Bills were introduced and passed – the Finance Bill, 2017, The Mental Health Care Bill, 2013, four bills related to implementation of the goods and services tax (GST), The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016, The Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill, 2017, The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
With a total of 12 bills passed during the second half, productivity for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, as of Monday, was 112 percent and 87 percent respectively (according to data by PRS Legislative Research).
Both the Houses functioned efficiently despite many tussles between the Opposition and the government over issues like the Ramjas College row, racial attacks on Indians in US and Australia, linking of Aadhar to welfare benefits and I-T returns, allegations of electronic voting machines (EVMs) tampering, among others.
Here are some of the key bills passed during the Budget session:
Four GST bills
Parliament passed four legislations to pave the way for the roll out of the historic GST, set for the target date of 1 July.
The Central GST Bill, 2017; The Integrated GST Bill, 2017; The GST (Compensation to States) Bill, 2017; and The Union Territory GST Bill, 2017 were returned by the Rajya Sabha after negation of a host of amendments moved by the Opposition parties. The Lok Sabha had passed these bills on 29 March.
All the states will now have to pass the States GST Bill after which the new indirect tax regime can be rolled out. The rates are to be discussed by the GST Council on 18-19 May.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that once the new regime is implemented, the harassment of businesses by different authorities will end and India will be have one rate for one commodity throughout the country.
Finance Bill of 2017
The controversial bill was introduced as a money bill in the Lok Sabha (where BJP hold majority) which meant that it could be passed without a nod from the Rajya Sabha – Upper House can only suggest changes to a money bill and cannot meddle with the final decision of Lok Sabha.
The bill was fiercely opposed by the opposition and contains some controversial elements:
– The Centre included amendments to the Income Tax Act, giving more power to tax officials. This gives the I-T department the right to conduct a raid without disclosing the reasons behind it.
– Another controversial element of the bill allows for unlimited and anonymous corporate funding for political parties. The move was seen in stark contrast to the demonetisation drive, which was packaged as an attack on black money, as it allowed for undisclosed contributions. Donations from foreign entities too will not be disclosed.
– Another amendment saw a merger of various tribunals which examine appeals of regulatory decisions. This gives the government arbitrary control over the tribunal as it can now oversee appointment, removal of its members.
– The bill also made Aadhar mandatory for applying for a PAN card or for filing I-T returns.
The Mental Health Care Bill, 2013
Parliament passed a bill that seeks to decriminalise suicide attempts by mentally ill people and provides for the right to better healthcare for people suffering from mental illness.
The bill says that any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to be suffering from mental illness at the time of attempting suicide and shall not be liable to punishment under section 309 of Indian Penal Code (IPC).
As of now, a person who attempts to commit suicide is charged under section 309 of IPC as it is considered to be an offence.
The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016
Rajya Sabha passed a Bill to amend a 49-year-old law to guard against claims of succession or transfer of properties left by people who migrated to Pakistan and China, amid a walkout by the entire Opposition.
This bill states that successors of those who migrated to Pakistan and China during partition will have no claim over the properties left behind in India.
The Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill, 2017
A bill, under which specified industrial units will have to pay salaries and wages to workers only either through cheques or by electronic transfer to their bank accounts, was passed by the Lok Sabha.
The bill enables the Centre and states to specify the industries which will come under the ambit of the new provision.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
Women working in the organised sector will now be entitled to paid maternity leave of 26 weeks, up from 12 weeks, as Parliament passed a bill in this regard that will benefit about 1.8 million women.
The new law will apply to all establishments employing 10 or more people and the entitlement will be for only up to first two children. For third child, the entitlement will be for only 12 weeks.
Here are some key moments from the session:
P Chidambaram vs Arun Jaitley on Aadhar
The issue of privacy and data security around Aadhar was brought to the fore when former finance minister Chidambaram engaged in a healthy debate with his current counterpart in Jaitley. Chidambaram questioned the efficacy of linking Aadhar to welfare benefits and I-T returns by questioning the safety of the move. He quoted examples of data hacks and leaks in the Pentagon, putting the move under scrutiny. Jaitley defended the move, saying that the fact that technology can be broken into can never be used as an argument against advancing technology.
Warm welcome for Sushma Swaraj’s ‘powerful voice’
When External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made her first public appearance in over three months, after she underwent a kidney transplant in early December, she was welcomed by House speaker Sumitra Mahajan, who greeted her by saying that it was good to hear her ‘powerful voice’ again.
Budget session a winner for Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said the Budget Session was a “winner” for his government as it could secure the passage of many bills, including the key GST legislations.
The Prime Minister said a “positive” public mood in favour of the Centre’s ruling dispensation pervaded the country as its completes three years in office next month and pitched for a harder push to the reforms and development agenda.
“This is a golden opportunity for us to lift the lives of the poor, the deprived… This is the time for doing more development and reforms,” he said.