Parliament approves Finance Bill 2017 in its original form

On Wednesday, the Upper House had passed a total of five amendments. Three of the amendments were brought in by Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, while Sitaram Yechury of CPI(M) moved another two.

Parliament on Thursday 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.

On Wednesday, the Upper House had passed a total of five amendments. Three of the amendments were brought in by Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, while Sitaram Yechury of CPI(M) moved another two.

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.

"Today we have given the option of receiving donations by cheque -- there is total transparency, it is clean money.

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.

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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.

"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.

In the 245-member Rajya Sabha, the BJP has 56 seats while the NDA combine has 74 seats.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday addressed the issue of Aadhaar and privacy protections, concerns over which have been raised in Parliament and on social media.

India's largest biometric-based identity programme - Aadhaar was at the centre of a heated debate between the former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and current Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the Parliament on Wednesday.

Chidambaram led the opposition charge and asked the government how it would protect the people's private information from being hacked through Aadhaar.

"The Pentagon is being hacked - what is the guarantee you can prevent the hacking of bank accounts, Income Tax details through Aadhaar number?" P Chidambaram asked. He also said: "MS Dhoni's wife has complained his Aadhaar number is being made public."

To which Arun Jaitley responded by saying, "If firewalls are broken, hacking can take place anywhere. That is not a ground to say that hacking takes place only because Aadhaar is there."

"The Pentagon got hacked even without the Aadhaar being there. So the hacking doesn't happen because of Aadhaar," he further said.

The government had recently made Aadhar a mandatory for filing Income Tax returns and for PAN card application.

(with inputs from PTI)