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Budget 2019: Will Jaitley break the tradition?

Richa Mishra | Updated on January 17, 2019 Published on January 16, 2019

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Will the government present a full Budget or go for a Vote on Account? A furious debate is on

 

Richa Mishra

 

On February 1, Arun Jaitley will present his sixth Budget. But the question on everyone’s lips is, will it be a Vote on Account or will it be a full Budget?

Legally and technically there is nothing wrong if he presents a full Budget.He can, if his government wants, present a Budget with schemes, policies, and also tax rates. And no, the next government coming in will not be bound to adhere to these proposals and, if it so desires, can present its own Budget. So, what is the fuss about?

It is about convention and tradition. Convention dictates that the government coming to an end of its term present a proposal seeking consent to incur expenditure to tide over the interim period before a new government is elected.

According to Article 114 of the Constitution of India, no amount can be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund of India without authorisation from Parliament or legislature of the States. And so an Appropriation Bill need be passed as a part of Budget exercise, which is then presented to the President/Governor after budgetary estimates are approved. It becomes an Act after the assent by the President/governor to the Bill. Hence, the concept of Vote on Account has been there to keep the government business going.

But as one senior member of BJP says, “Remember this government has not been a slave to any conventions.” It may be recalled that Jaitley in his earlier five Budgets had broken many traditions — he advanced the Budget date, merged Railway Budget with General Budget, removed indirect taxes out of Budget when the Goods and Services Tax regime kicked in, and so on. Will he do the same this time?

The date factor

There is a reason why there is conjecture around whether it will be a full Budget or not. One is to do with dates. Earlier, the Budget was presented on February 28. By the time the whole process — debate, reference to standing committee, report of committee, and final passage — happened it used to be May-end or June. Therefore, Vote on Account was adopted for a certain period so work doesn’t stop till the final Budget is passed.

The Narendra Modi-led government advanced the Budget date to February 1, while maintaining the same fiscal year of April 1- March 31. This advancement also meant that the entire exercise of getting the mandatory Parliamentary approvals was concluded by March 31 and there was no need to get receipts and expenditure approvals for two-three months, as was the case earlier.

Also, there was some confusion over the winter session being continued. “On December 10, at an All Party Meeting, it was indicated by the Finance Minister that the winter session will not be prorogued and therefore the next session will be treated as the continuation of the same session. But, now they have prorogued the session. So, the Budget session will be a new session of Parliament,” said an Opposition party member who was present at the meeting.

On the other hand, unlike previous years, when the Finance Minister and his team hold pre-Budget meetings with trade bodies, economists, and farm sector experts, it hasn’t happened till now this year. “Do you think they need suggestions and recommendations,” said a critic of the government.

Waiting and watching

“We will have to see how they treat the new session. Whether there will be a Presidential address or not” said D Raja, a senior member of the Communist Party of India. “If it is a regular Budget. then it reflects the arrogance of the present government. They are assuming that they will return to power. I don’t think it is a democratic practice,” said M Veerappa Moily, senior member of Indian National Congress

Even if it is just a Vote on Account, the Finance Minister will indeed read a speech. “No one stops him from making a vision statement. While speaking about government’s achievements he can always speak his mind on what could be done. He could talk about cess, customs duty or talk about schemes,” said an officer. However, T K Viswanathan, Former Secretary General Lok Sabha, remained confident that there would be no break in tradition. He said “by convention, during the election year, the government doesn’t present a full-fledged Budget. This will be followed this year also. I don’t see any departure from past practice.”

But there are those who believe that if there is a Presidential address then it will be a political speech. It’s tricky ground for the Opposition because if the Budget proposes populist schemes then it will become difficult for the new government (if it is led by another political party) to withdraw it.

“Any government should not take voters for granted. It should pave the way for the new government, which could have its own common minimum programmes,” said Raja.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Moily and other Opposition members, but Jaitley has a mind of his own. Besides, he doesn’t need to wait for the Budget to make statements as changes and decisions now are taken through the year.

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Published on January 16, 2019
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