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Finance bill passed, ministry control on surveillance body mooted
Published on 30 Apr. 2010 12:08 AM IST
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The Lok Sabha Thursday passed the Finance Bill, 2010-11, with no change in fuel levies but with concessions for certain sectors on a day the government said it was considering whether an organisation accused of phone tapping should be brought under “a ministry”.
Also on Thursday, the acquittal of Congress leader Jagdish Tytler in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case forced a brief adjournment of the Rajya Sabha as Akali Dal members charged the government with laxity in prosecuting the perpetrators of the mayhem that followed the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee moved the Finance Bill after providing a special relief package for coffee growers and tax concessions for healthcare, auto and realty sectors, but without any change in the levies on petroleum products, after a 50-minute final reply to the debate. The Lok Sabha passed the bill by a voice vote.
Mukherjee’s concessions included a service tax exemption on low-cost housing schemes, income tax rebate for hospitals that have over 100 beds, reduction in excise on craft paper to 4 percent, and extension of excise rebate on auto components for construction machinery.
The minister also reduced the customs duty on 11 drugs, including those for treatment of AIDS and cancer, exemptrf components for manufacture of optical discs from such levy, and reduced the counterveiling duty on waste paper to 4 percent.
During the course of his reply to the debate, Mukherjee justified the hike in excise and customs duties on crude oil and some petroleum products because of the prevailing global situation, and said he has taken a “correct” stand by not touching retail prices.
“Instead of duties, I could have taken the administered price mechanism route. But I did not do so because to me it would not have been correct,” the minister said.
The government’s statement on the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), in the eye of a storm for allegedly monitoring phone conversations between a high-profile lobbyist and Communications Minister A. Raja on the allocation of 2G spectrum, came during a debate on phone tapping in the Rajya Sabha.
“A group of ministers had recommended the creation of the NTRO in 2001. It was the decision of the (previous) NDA (National Democratic Alliance) and not the UPA (United Progressive Alliance),” Home Minister Chidambaram said in the Rajya Sabha while replying to a debate on the phone tapping issue.
“It had been decided to place the NTRO not under a ministry but under the NSA. We are examining whether the NTRO should be placed under a ministry so that the minister is accountable to parliament,” he added.
The issue rocked parliament Wednesday, leading to demands for Raja’s resignation and disrupting the proceedings in both houses.
It led to 75 minutes of the pre-lunch session being lost in the Rajya Sabha, which was adjourned twice, while the Lok Sabha lost an hour’s business due to one adjournment.
Both houses were adjourned for the day Monday and Tuesday after angry opposition MPs demanded a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into a newsmagazine’s report that the phones of prominent politicians had been tapped. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had nixed the demand, angering the opposition further and leading it to give notice of a privilege motion in the Lok Sabha.
A Delhi court Tuesday gave a clean chit to Tytler, a former union minister, in an anti-Sikh riots case and accepted the CBI closure report that ruled out his involvement.
“There is insufficient material to send Tytler to trial,” Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Rakesh Pandit said.

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