Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday tried to calm fears over an amendment to the Finance Bill giving more powers to income tax (I-T) officials. He played down charges that this was an “undeclared Emergency”.
The FM said the amendment related only to disclosure of the source of information regarding alleged tax evaders.
Jaitley, in his reply to the debate on the Finance Bill, 2017, in the Lok Sabha, defended the decision of the government to make Aadhaar cards mandatory for filing I-T returns and applying for a permanent account number (PAN), claiming it might become the only identity card in the future.
He also assured of action against 929,000 entities which had not responded to the I-T department’s queries over amounts that did not match income profile deposited in their accounts between November 8 and December 31.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the demonetisation of old series Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on November 8. Those who had money in these denominations were allowed to deposit it in their accounts till December 30.
The Lok Sabha passed the Finance Bill, and an unprecedented 40 amendments, on Wednesday. This means Parliament has passed the Bill, as the Rajya Sabha does not have the right to turn down a money Bill.
The budgetary process, which began with its presentation on February 1, is now over.
Just before the Bill was passed, Biju Janata Dal members staged a walk-out over the Aadhaar issues. Congress members also walked out as the government refused to give any commitment on farm loans.
Discussing powers given to I-T officials to conduct raids, the FM said the source of information could be disclosed only to courts. “If a person challenges an I-T department order for a search, he has the right to know the source of information,” he said. This has led to the drying up of such sources. “The only amendment is that the copy disclosing the source of information would be given only to the court, but no one else,” Jaitley said, adding, “A columnist has written this is undeclared Emergency. We should not have any apprehension over this.”
The Bill amended Section 132 (a) of the I-T Act to give effect to this change. On making Aadhaar mandatory for filing returns and applying for PAN, the FM said this would plug loopholes of duplicate PANs used by some assesses to hide their identities. Jaitley said 98 per cent adults in the country had Aadhaar cards or have applied for it. The system would be used to cub tax evasion.
So why not use Aadhaar for all purposes, even replace PAN, asked Communist Party of India (Marxist) member Mohammed Salim.
The FM said it could happen in the future, citing the example of social security number in the US.
Answering a question on whether the government was forcing people to get Aadhaar despite a Supreme Court ruling that it was not mandatory, Jaitley said if the technology was used properly, the scope for fraud and tax evasion would come down.
He also ruled out imposing any tax on agriculture income, saying it was a state matter. “The Centre does not have the power to impose tax on agriculture. It is outside the legislative competence of Parliament.”
Jaitley said the government would bring in a Bill to amend the Excise and Customs Act, along with the four goods and services tax Bills, to enable the introduction of the new indirect tax system by July this year.
Defending demonetisation, he said the I-T department has sent SMS, emails to 1.8 million people, out of which 871,000 had responded. Action would be taken against the rest under the I-T Act, Jaitley said.