After months of heated debate over the Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi scams, the Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill through a voice vote. The bill was introduced by Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal, saying it reflected the governments "aggressiveness" in acting against loan defaulters and black money.
The bill was passed after two hours of heated debate, where the opposition attacked the Modi government for not doing enough to stop economic offenders, Goyal introduced the bill and asked why the UPA had never introduced a similar legislation when it was in power.
As per Goyal, the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill 2018 allows agencies to seize all properties in the name of the offender, as well as 'benami' properties. The opposition also demanded that the law be brought into retrospective effect, so that Mallya and Modi could be booked but Goyal overruled such a move, saying the government "knows how to bring the accused to book".
Nishikant Dubey (BJP), initiated the debate saying it would help the government recover the dues from absconding offenders, but was quickly attacked by several other members. Dubey went on to allege that Mallya and Modi were all products of the UPA government, alleging that Chidambaram had tweaked the rules to help certain firms linked to some of these accused before the BJP government took over.
The new bill replaces the fugitive economic offenders' ordinance that was promulgated in April. Under the bill, anyone can be declared a fugitive economic offender if an arrest warrant is issued against him/her for any specified offence of over Rs. 100 crore and the accused flees the country and refuses to return for prosecution.
Senior Congress member Shashi Tharoor took a dig at the Prime Minister's meeting with Nirav Modi in Davos and said there was a significant gap between the government's "rhetoric and action". He demanded the removal of the threshold of Rs. 100 crore, saying there was no logic to the provision.
This will not survive a constitutional test. It has been brought purely for optics and to play to the gallery. It suffers major lacunae. Any bill we pass should be legally sound. It is too serious an issue to become another jumla (rhetoric).