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Govt approves ₹80,000 crore in grants in Lok Sabha without discussion, finds report

A report by data journalism website India Spend has painted a worrying picture of the state of parliamentary proceedings under the Narendra Modi-led government

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India Spend

The Narendra Modi-led central government approved approximately ₹80,000 crore of public money in grants without a discussion or debate in the Lok Sabha on March 14, a new report by data analysis website India Spend has shown. In effect, the Union Budget 2018-19 has been cleared through the passing of Finance Bill 2018 without a discussion, after a gag order, or ‘guillotine’, by Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan

Here follow excerpts from the IndiaSpend report.

In 30 minutes on March 13, 2018, Parliament’s lower house, the Lok Sabha, passed without debate funding demands from 99 Indian government ministries and departments, including two bills and 218 amendments.

As many opposition members of Parliament (MPs) protested, Sumitra Mahajan, speaker of the Lok Sabha–controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)–used a parliamentary procedure called the “guillotine”, which empowers her to pass grants without discussion.

Among the demands passed in 30 minutes on March 13, 2018, were:

  • Controversial foreign funding to political parties, which will allow them to escape scrutiny with retrospective effect for 42 years
  • Salary hikes for members of parliament, the president, and state governors
  • An Appropriation Bill passed by voice vote on March 14, 2018, which allows govt to draw ₹80,000 crore from the Consolidated Fund of India (₹57 lakh crore), the government’s total revenue.
  • A long-term capital gains tax, which has received mixed reactions since it was announced in February. Investors will now have to pay 10% tax on profits from shares sold, even if they have had these shares for more than a year.

The bills were the contentious Finance Bill, 2018, and the Appropriation Bill, 2018.

No bills had passed over the last eight days, with the Opposition protesting the ₹11,000-crore Punjab National Bank scam, special compensation packages for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and defacement of the Periyar statue in Tamil Nadu.

On Wednesday afternoon at 12.35 pm, speaker Sumitra Mahajan applied the guillotine to pass the budget 2018 in time for the new financial year, which starts on April 1, 2018. At the start of the week, the BJP had issued a three-day whip to its members to be present in the House. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government holds an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.

How the speaker applied the guillotine

The speaker of the Lok Sabha can apply the guillotine on the last day of the period prescribed for discussions on the demands for grants. In so doing, all outstanding demands are put to vote at a time specified in advance. The aim: To conclude discussions on financial proposals within the time specified. Once the guillotine is invoked, all outstanding demands for grants must be voted on by the House without discussion.

After all the demands for grants were passed, speaker Mahajan passed two money bills—the Appropriation Bill, 2018 and the controversial Finance Bill 2018—with only a voice vote.

A money bill can be introduced, amended and voted on only in the Lok Sabha. It can then be referred to the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament), which cannot vote on or hold back such legislation for more than 14 days.

Graph courtesy: PRS Legislative Research
Graph courtesy: PRS Legislative Research

Using guillotine to pass all demands only twice before in 18 years

A significant number of demand for grants are passed every year under the guillotine without discussion, as the chart above shows.

It is rare to see all grants passed without discussion. Since 2000, a 100% guillotine was previously recorded in 2013 under the United Progressive Alliance and in 2004 under the previous term of the NDA.

However, with the railways budget now merged with the general union budget, the demand for grants guillotined without discussion is significantly higher than previously.

Since funding demands from six ministries were due to be discussed on March 14, Parliament was denied the chance to debate a significant proportion of grants, equal to 28% of the budget, said an analyst at PRS Legislative Research, a think tank. These include funding demands from the allocations to the ministries of railways, agriculture, youth affairs, road transport and highways and social justice and welfare.

Excerpts of an article that first appeared on IndiaSpend

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