Wednesday, May 17, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Bill on devolution of taxes passed
Centre authorised to levy surcharge

NEW DELHI, May 16 (UNI) — Parliament has approved the Constitution (89th Amendment) Bill, 2000, to allow devolution of 29 per cent of the central gross proceeds to the states.

The amendment also authorises the Centre to levy surcharge on central taxes and duties. The scheme will be effective from April 1, 1996, and the percentage share of net proceeds during 1996-97 to 1999-2000 will be 29 per cent of the gross proceeds as per the recommendations of the Tenth Finance Commission.

Piloting the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha said it was a major step in achieving national consensus in bringing down the “chronic national” problem of big deficit gap.

There was an error in the number of votes in the electronic voting machine as the Bill, which was taken to the voting clause by clause, gave different reading of votes cast. Deputy Chairperson Najma Heptulla announced the passage of the amendment by 170 votes subject to correction.

In his reply Mr Sinha said the government proposed to come out with a fiscal responsibility Act which would fix a ceiling on governmental borrowing as a measure to tackle the growing size of deficits. He said the acceptance of the recommendations of the Fifth Pay Commission had imposed great burden on the Budgets of the Central and state governments and the impact would be felt for many long years. Expenditures of the government left little elbow room, he said.

Commending the attitude displayed by the states in tackling the deficit problem he said they had complied with the persuasions of the Centre for a uniform sales tax which would go a long way in bringing fiscal discipline. Many states had volunteered to reduce tax and he would be convening a meeting of the Chief Ministers on 19th of this month for creating a similar ground for the value added taxes, too.

He said the country had entered an era of MoU between the Centre and the states and cautioned the people that there would be a series of unpleasant and unpopular decisions to be faced by all, including facing threats of closures and public wrath. This was needed in the national interest and to build up a consensus in the national interest of reducing fiscal deficits, he said.

On the disinvestment front, there was a need to proceed cautiously otherwise perhaps it would be situation of “killing of golden goose”, he said.

Mr Sinha said the Union Government would make up for the loss arising out of the difference of Rs 2000 crore between gross and net central receipts and “the states will not lose out on this count.’’

“It is not our intention to deprive the states of their share and the difference between gross and net will be met by the Centre,’’ he said.

Differences cropped up in the Differences cropped up in the Congress leadership over its stand on subsidies when the party’s economic wizard and the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Dr Manmohan Singh questioned the continuance of ‘‘non-merit’’ subsidies in the Rajya Sabha today even as the party’s top brass led by Mrs Sonia Gandhi marched to the Prime Minister’s residence demanding roll back price increase in essential commodities.

If only the subsidies which amount of Rs 1,30,000 crores were saved, each of the 300 million people below the poverty line could be straightway provided with a money order of Rs 4000, Dr Manmohan Singh told the Rajya Sabha while participating in the discussions on the Bill.

The Congress leadership in its memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister charged the government with dismantling the public distribution system (PDS).

Maintaining that the present path of continuing with non-merit subsidies was simply unsustainable, Dr Manmohan Singh warned if the fiscal health of the union and states was not improved, we have to say goodbye to all talks of universalising access of elementary education and primary healthcare for all our people.

Dr Manmohan Singh also made it clear that there could be no effective poverty alleviation programme without a sound financial system and strong financial discipline.

Stating that the magnitude of the subsidies which accounted for nearly 16 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) could not be sustained, he emphasized that it was obligatory to take measures as a nation to bring the subsidies down within the limits of prudence.

Meanwhile, the BJP welcomed the speech of Dr Manmohan Singh.


Bill on reservation okayed

NEW DELHI, May 16 (PTI, UNI) — Parliament today approved the 90th Constitution Amendment Bill seeking to end the 50 per cent ceiling on reservation for SCs/STs and OBCs in backlog vacancies with the Rajya Sabha passing it unanimously without debate.

The Lok Sabha had passed the bill on May 10.


Lok Sabha passes IT Bill
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, May 16 — The Lok Sabha today passed by voice vote the information technology (IT) Bill to facilitate electronic commerce and growth of Internet in the country.

Replying to a two-day debate on the Bill, the Information and Technology Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan said special police task forces would be set up to deal with cyber crimes and rejected Opposition charges that the Bill contained “draconian provisions”. Mr Mahajan pointed out that the controversial recommendations of the standing committee to monitor cybercafes and register portals were never accepted by the Cabinet in the first place.

He said the special task forces would be set up within the police to deal with cyber crimes incorporating the recommendations of the standing committee. He said the provision allowing police officers not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police to raid and arrest without warrant for suspected cybercrimes was essential as in its absence the CrPC would apply to such offences, which would make it more draconian.

He said this would be more dangerous as constables would have the powers to deal with such cases.

Mr Mahajan said the police force had to be retrained for making them computer savvy. “Unless the police is able to retrieve data from a computer, they would not be able to deal with crimes”, he added.

Admitting the Opposition charge that some police officers might misuse the rules, Mr Mahajan said the government could not delay a Bill because of that reason. Such officers should be punished , he added.

The minister strongly criticised the print media for creating an erroneous impression about the provisions relating to registration of cybercafes or portals. He said the media had unfortunately created the impression that the government had backed out from these provisions. However, the truth was that these were never there in the original Bill and had only been suggested by the standing committee on science and technology as section 73A and 73B.

Earlier speaking in the resumed discussion today, Congress members Satyavrat Chaturvedi and Mr Santosh Mohan Deb clarified that there was no opposition to the Bill in principle but the members had not had time to study it and therefore it should not have been passed in haste. The Bill would have far-reaching effects in several other legislations and therefore needed more careful consideration.

Both members said it could not be denied that the Bill was a necessity in today’s environment and the nation would be left behind if it did not move with the times. They said the blanket powers to the police needed to be restrained as these could be misused, and Mr Chaturvedi said section 83 even gave immunity to the DSP. He wanted to know how section 74 could be useful in countries with which India did not have any extradition treaty. Mr C.N. Singh (SJP) also wanted the Bill to be kept till the next session as there were no urgent provisions, and there could be a national debate.

The epoch-making information technology legislation will be implemented by Independence Day this year after it is approved by Parliament, a UNI report said.

Meanwhile, the National Association of SME IT companies today criticised the government for unleashing “police raj” by allowing police officers above DSP rank to raid and arrest people for cyber crimes without a warrant, as proposed in the Bill.

“NASMEIT will meet the Prime Minister and Opposition members to convey the dismay and serious apprehension of 800 small and medium cyber entrepreneurs, business operations.” President of National Association of SME IT companies of India (NASMEIT) P.K. Sandell said in a statement here.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and NASSCOM today hailed the passage of the Bill in Parliament.

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